Non-profit education initiative Say Yes to Education marked five years in the Syracuse school district by touting increases in college enrollment and adding some top schools to the program.
Say Yes entered Syracuse schools in 2009 with the goal of overhauling urban education and increasing the city's chronically poor graduation rates. Syracuse was the first city-wide implementation of the program.
It offers free college tuition (after financial aid) to any Syracuse city high school graduate.
Say Yes founder George Weiss, lawmakers, and school officials attended a ceremony at John T. Roberts School Monday to mark the anniversary.
Weiss announced Harvard, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Duke and Georgetown have all joined the list of schools Say Yes scholars can attend tuition free.
The program says 93 Say Yes scholars who entered four-year colleges in 2009 have earned their degrees. In all, 2,100 students have used Say Yes support to attend college. Syracuse has seen a 33 percent increase in the number of high school graduates attending college since 2009, according to the program's own numbers.
At the ceremony, Weiss delivered this message to those who have earned bachelors degrees: "What you have to do is now is turn around and give back to the community and encourage other men and women like yourself; to enable them to fulfill their dreams as well."
For Say Yes scholars who spoke at the ceremony, it wasn't the numbers that show them the impact of Say Yes.
"It’s about quite the opposite for me," said Amber Jackson.
Jackson lost her father when she was 16 years old. Though money was tight, she was able to use Say Yes to attend her dream college, Hobart and William Smith.
"It’s about the chance," Jackson added. "And that’s something hard to understand unless you’ve had one like I had. Say Yes started a string of chances, big and small, in my life; chances that I’ve taken."
She now lives in Ireland and teaches English.
Say Yes to Education entered the Buffalo school district last year, only the program's second full city. Before, it was only in certain troubled schools. Say Yes also offered summer and in-school programs for younger students.