Campus & Community

Turning Crimson to gold

5 min read

Crimson Academy’s graduating seniors are off to top colleges and universities

When Ruo Chen, 18, came to this country five years ago from his native China he could speak very little English and had no experience with the American education system. He never would have dreamed that in a few short years he would not only master the language, but would also be accepted to Harvard College.

“When I first came I just wanted to get through middle school and high school,” says Chen. “I didn’t think that my English would improve enough to get into a school like Harvard.”

Chen credits much of his success to his three summers at the Crimson Summer Academy (CSA), where he was able to build on and refine his language skills, both in and out of the classroom.

The Crimson Summer Academy, founded in 2004 as part of an initiative to improve access to college for economically disadvantaged students in Boston and Cambridge, exposes high school students to a three-year summer academic program; provides yearlong mentoring by Harvard students; and offers financial support, including a laptop computer, a stipend to replace lost summer earnings, and a $3,000 scholarship to the college of their choice on completion.

Chen’s success story is just one of many that have come out of the Crimson Summer Academy. This year’s graduating class, the second cohort of Crimson scholars to graduate from area high schools, is brimming with academic triumphs: The 28 graduating seniors will all be matriculating to schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins, Wellesley, and of course, Harvard.

Chen is one of the three students who will be joining the Harvard Class of 2012 in the fall. Chen’s journey to the Ivy League began thousands of miles away in Fuzhou, the capital city of Fujian Province on the coast of China. In November 2003 Chen traveled to Boston to live with his parents who, when they’d immigrated to the United States three years earlier, had left their son in the care of his grandparents.

In the Boston public school system, Chen naturally struggled with his English in the beginning. By day he would attend the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, and at night he would go home where his parents spoke only Chinese.

Chen credits his experience at CSA, especially the residential aspect, with improving his English to the point where he could communicate comfortably.

“The first summer I struggled, but it helped a lot because I got to live with other American kids; and that’s where I really learned to socialize,” said Chen.

His considerable communication skills were put to the test this week (June 10) when he delivered the valedictory address to his Brighton High School’s graduating class, where he is the first graduate in 25 years to be accepted to Harvard.

Another of CSA’s success stories takes the form of 17-year-old Gabrielle “Gabby” Farrell. Next year she will be attending Bryn Mawr College on a POSSE Foundation scholarship, which provides students with a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to the participating college.

During her freshman year, Farrell was recommended for the CSA by her high school guidance counselor. Although Farrell had reservations about the residential aspect of the program, there was little doubt about her family’s position on the subject.

“My family had high hopes I would get in,” says Farrell. “My family said that when you’re in ninth grade and you bring something home like an invitation from Harvard, you’ve got to do it.”

Despite being only seven miles away from home that first summer, Farrell felt worlds away from her home in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston. A normally talkative young woman, Farrell was quiet and reserved in her new environment — a little unsure of her abilities and more than a little homesick.

“I had to get over the fact that I was a high school student, taking classes with people who were older and smarter than me,” said Farrell.

But she eventually did get over her initial anxiety and soon began to flourish in the program.

Looking back on those early days, Farrell is amazed at the things that she has accomplished. She credits much of her success academically to the Crimson Summer Academy.

“CSA had a big effect on my high school academic performance,” says Farrell. “It challenged me a lot, and when I saw what I could do I started looking for ways to challenge myself, and that will be really helpful in college.”

Chen and Farrell have joined the ranks of Crimson scholars alumni, a high-achieving group of high school graduates, 100 percent of whom have been accepted to selective colleges and universities and stayed.

“This program was created to open the opportunity of a college education to talented high school students regardless of their economic circumstances,” said Maxine Rodburg, CSA director.

“Our graduating scholars have exceeded our expectations and have shown that they will have a lasting impact on their schools, their communities, and the future.”