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Amityville high school students begin a 1,300-mile college tour

Twenty-nine Amityville Memorial High School students left Sunday,

Twenty-nine Amityville Memorial High School students left Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, on a five-day, 1,300-mile tour of four historically black universities. The trip will "allow them to see outside of Long Island" and get a chance to scout schools before sending out college applications, chaperones say. Credit: Steve Pfost

Twenty-nine Amityville Memorial High School students left Sunday on a five-day, 1,300-mile bus tour of four universities, part of a program the trip’s chaperone says is unique on Long Island.

Between Monday and Thursday, the students, accompanied by Reynolds Hawkins, a social worker and varsity track coach for the district, will meet with admissions officers, athletic staff and students at four historically black institutions, starting at North Carolina A & T State University, then winding their way north to Johnson C. Smith University, Howard University and Morgan State.

For some Amityville seniors, the $300 trip — the fee covers the bus, with the district paying for hotels — is a final chance to scout schools before they send out college applications. Others are visiting a college campus for the first time.

“We need to allow the students to see outside of Long Island, outside of New York State,” said Hawkins. “Not a lot of parents are in a position to be able to do something like this.”

In Amityville schools, which draw from Amityville Village, North Amityville and East Massapequa, 70 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in 2014-2015.

At Amityville Memorial in that same academic year, 41 percent of the 227 students who completed the school year intended to go on to a four-year college, and 37 percent intended to go on to a two-year college, according to the New York State Education Department.

Usually, said Hawkins, more than 90 percent of the students who take the college tour - this is his 10th such trip - go on to college. Last year, all of them did.

Hawkins said he evaluates each student who applies to go on the tour. Grades are a minor consideration. “As long as you’re not failing two or more classes and have the potential to be a college student, then I’m going to take you,” he said.

He also requires two teacher recommendations and an essay on what the student hopes to gain from the trip. He brings each student’s high school transcript to show college admissions officers, who sometimes issue a verdict — accept or not — during the visit.

That pressure, and the hours of downtime on the road, make for a comradery that can be hard to find elsewhere in high school, said Elijah Benymon, 17, a senior on his third tour who is leaning toward Purdue University or Florida A & M.

“It can be a heartbreaking experience, but also a big life lesson,” he said. “I’ve seen seniors who weren’t able to attend some of these colleges. I saw some of them get accepted.”

The bus comes to feel like a “moving hotel,” he said, with students drifting in and out of hours-long conversations. “These are things people wouldn’t normally engage in,” he said. “These are people you’ve never spoken to.”

From the University of Michigan, where she’s pursuing a Ph.D in chemical engineering after graduating from Amityville in 2009 and then Howard University, Corine Jackman, 25, looked back fondly.

Her parents had little time or money for a college tour and the one Hawkins led was her first extended trip away from Long Island, she said. “It opened up my eyes to new places.”

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