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“Copy, Change and Paste: Posse Foundation Goes Europe”

In the United States, inner city public school students are greatly underrepresented in institutions of higher education. Likewise, in both the Netherlands and Germany, non-Western migrant children are inadequately represented in high schools that feed into the university system.. These students do not lack potential or intelligence. Instead, their chances of educational success are often limited because of failing school systems, language deficiencies and destructive social environments.
In the words of Jeff Johnson: that pisses us off. One attempt to address this problem in the United States can be found in the work of the Posse Foundation, a group which aims to equalize the representation of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, as well as low-income communities, at American colleges and universities. In this proposal, we express our hope to “copy, change and paste” the activities of The Posse Foundation to the social, cultural and educational contexts of both the Netherlands and Germany.

The Posse Foundation

The Posse Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that aims to diversify the student population at elite institutions of higher education in the United States, by identifying public high school students who show extraordinary leadership and academic potential.  Posse’s unconventional selection process, the Dynamic Assessment Process (DAP), recognizes students that would usually be overlooked by traditional admissions methods. Most Posse Scholars are from minority and/or low-income backgrounds. The organization’s built-in support system encourages students to become catalysts of change on their respective college campuses, and later in the professional world, by providing them with pre-collegiate training, academic support, mentoring and an array of internships and career opportunities.   
 
Deborah Bial, currently Posse’s President, founded the group in 1989 after several of her most accomplished New York City public school students dropped out of colleges and universities that they had been attending outside of New York.  In particular, one student said that he would have never left school if he had had his “posse” with him, prompting Bial to start an organization that sends small, diverse groups of students or “Posses” to colleges so that they may act as a support network for each other.  The organization has seven different sites in cities around the country, and partners with 35 different institutions of higher education.  Posse achieves its goals through five different components: Recruitment, the Pre-Collegiate Training Program, the Campus Program, the Career Program, and most recently, the Posse Access Program.  
 
Recruitment occurs from September to December of each year, using the Dynamic Assessment Process. High Schools, Posse alumni and community organizations nominate students to participate in DAP, which uses non-traditional methods to assess students’ interpersonal skills, teamwork and leadership abilities, motivation, and desire to succeed. Posse evaluates thousands of participants to form each of the ten-student “posses” through a three-stage system consisting of both large group and individual interviews.  
The Pre-Collegiate Training program takes place from January to August during Posse scholars’ senior year in high school, and is aimed at preparing students for leadership positions in campus and college-level work. Scholars participate in weekly, two- hour workshops with staff trainers to address four areas: 1) team building and group support; 2) cross-cultural communication; 3) leadership and becoming an active agent of change on campus; and 4) academic excellence. 
The Campus Program consists of weekly team gatherings and biweekly individual meetings with their respective on-campus mentors. Additionally, Posse staff from the sending cities visit the campus four times a year to meet with scholars, campus liaisons and mentors. Each year, Posse hosts a Posse Plus Retreat to address an important campus issue, transporting students, faculty and staff to remote locations for a weekend filled with constructive workshops and dialogue. 
The Career Program provides scholars with internship and career opportunities, both while they are in school and after they graduate. This program supports scholars’ transition from student leaders to leaders in the workplace by providing professional development, and by partnering with companies and organizations. 
The Posse Access is an online database that allows partner colleges and universities to identify students from the pool of unselected finalists, to prevent these students from “falling through the cracks” and ensure that as many of them as possible pursue a higher education. By using all of these tools, Posse hopes to nurture the development of our future leaders in a way that reflects the true demographic diversity of the American people. There are currently 2,650 Posse Scholars and Alumni.

Copy, Change and Paste

In order to “copy, change and paste” Posse’s concept, we first had to identify the problem in Germany and the Netherlands which, as described above, is the underrepresentation of non-Western migrant children in college-bound high schools. The gap between demographics and representation within universities is detrimental, because today’s minorities will be tomorrow’s majorities. In Rotterdam, the second largest city in the Netherlands, non-Western migrants will comprise the majority of its residents by 2012. The failure of the educational system to fully represent minority groups in a city such as Rotterdam could create a situation that is dangerous to the health of the nation.
The Dutch and German educational systems are quite similar. Students attend primary school until they are twelve years of age, after which school administrators decide upon their placement within a three-tiered high school system, based on performance. Only students at the highest of those three levels will have the opportunity to receive a college education; for the other two groups, their education consists of vocational training. The way in which the primary school systems are currently designed have failed the children of immigrant families. Their potential is overlooked because they lack development in areas necessary to succeed in primary school, such as language skills; consequently, they will never attain that upper-level high school education. In other words, the critical moment is when students make the switch from primary school to high school, and therefore, German and Dutch “Posses” should be formed in elementary school instead of the last year of high school.

Applying Posse’s Five Program Components to a European Context

1.  Recruitment

Aside from shifting the focus from high school to elementary school, changes would be quite minimal given that the Dynamic Assessment Process has proven so successful. Students would continue to be nominated by local schools and community organizations.  However, Posse Europe would also focus on students that did not score high enough to enter the top level of high schools, but still exhibit leadership potential. Posse in the United States tends to recruit students that have excelled personally and/or academically, but attend schools that are traditionally overlooked by the college admissions process.

2.  Pre-Collegiate Training Program, aka Pre-High School Training Program

First, this component must be altered to focus on students in their last year of elementary school, instead of high school. In order to improve students’ test scores and grades, we will extend the program by at least four more months and add additional skills workshops. We want to specifically focus on language skills, because this is the most important reason why second-generation students do not perform as well as their German and Dutch peers.  Furthermore, there will be additional workshops to build students’ self-confidence and exercises to improve their concentration. Recently, the Netherlands implemented a somewhat similar program for ten primary school students that were expected to be held back a year. Nine of the ten students not only performed well enough to continue on to high school, but also were placed into a higher level. 

3. The Campus Program

Posse Europe will conduct its campus program in local high schools, instead of universities and colleges. Posse mentors will not be professional adults, but university students, in order to spark students’ interest in attending college. These students may relate better to their mentors because of the smaller age difference. However, this different approach presents one significant problem in that students remain in their home environments, and are more vulnerable to the influences of discouraging family and friends. As a result, their motivation to succeed academically and attend college may be compromised. 

4.  The Career Program

There will be no direct transition from the Posse program to the workplace because Posse Europe works with younger students than its American counterpart. However, prestigious internship opportunities are important for students that have little or no access to such a world. Therefore, internships will be provided to students during their last two years of high school.
The fifth component, the Posse Access, is irrelevant for our purposes.

Advantages

The most important advantage of our program is that because high schools and universities in Europe are free to all students, they do not need to pledge the same amount of money needed in the United States. Therefore, the program may be more attractive. Posse Europe can fund its maintenance costs with government, European Union and private grants since it addresses  social inequalities and lack of opportunities for minorities. 
Second, it will be easier for Posse to create programs that address educational inequalities because all schools are federally regulated, and therefore have the same curriculum. In the United States, in contrast, each state provides its citizens with different educational systems, creating vast differences in the abilities of students. This similar educational foundation among students will also make it easier to measure the program’s success. 

Disadvantages

As stated above, second-generation students in Europe will continue to live at home, in neighbourhoods in which most residents speak foreign languages. These same neighbourhoods often have higher unemployment and crime rates, which could be detrimental to students’ performance. Within these communities, performing well in school often damages the relationship between “smart” students and their peers. Therefore, Posse will need to counteract this factor by creating an environment which stimulates students to form critical relationships with their Posse and their mentors.

Conclusion

We believe that Posse’s concept can be applied to the German and Dutch educational systems, implementing these major changes, in order to help minority students enter the highest level of education. This program will not only affect the demographics of higher education in Europe, but will impact the ways in which the children and grandchildren of immigrants interact with their Dutch and German peers. Opportunities through education mean opportunities for a more socially, politically and economically integrated Europe. We hope that such a program will help to ease the current tensions between minority groups and native Europeans. 
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