Gayle King grew up in a household where it was never a question whether she was going to college. “I couldn’t wait,” she says, of attending the University of Maryland, where she double-majored in psychology and sociology. “Who’s going to be my roommate? What classes am I going to have? Filling out the application form.” But for many children raised in modest-income families, these conversations aren’t part of their upbringing.
“A lot of people know you have to do well on your SATs or ACTs or your parents are getting you a tutor,” King says. “What if you grow up in a home where nobody does any of that?”
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That’s why the “CBS This Morning” co-host has been excited to shine a light on Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, a New York nonprofit with businessman Henry Kravis as its chairman. Its flagship program, SEO Scholars, enrolls 1,500 students into an intensive academic program; starting in the ninth grade, they receive instruction every Saturday and for the month of July — a schedule that continues throughout high school. Some 80 instructors unspool the curriculum, taught in the Socratic method, emphasizing critical reading, writing, vocabulary, grammar, and math.
This boot camp yields impressive results: By the 12th grade, they have eliminated the gap as measured by SAT scores, and 100% of the kids are accepted into a four-year college. “Eighty five percent will be the first in their family to earn a college degree,” says William Goodloe, the president and CEO of SEO. “We see that as a way of breaking the cycle of poverty.”
King has witnessed the kids’ determination after meeting with some of them for a tour of her digs at “CBS This Morning.” She also recently emceed an awards dinner for SEO Scholars that raised $4.9 million. (King is the 2017 Karma Award honoree.) “They’re teaching these kids at a very early age to get ready,” King says. “If you get kids early, you get kids who are really committed.”