College Prep Starts with ABC

Each week, La Rae M. Martin-Coore ’99 is used to getting a few glances when she cruises the grocery aisles with her husband, son and three carts in tow.

They’re shopping for their extended family, the six New York City teens who live with them in Manlius.

The girls are enrolled in the A Better Chance, or ABC, program at Fayetteville-Manlius High School. The nationwide initiative brings bright inner city youth to high-achieving school districts to give them a different perspective while preparing for college and career.

ABC, one of two in the state, has been a part of the community for nearly 40 years. Martin-Coore took over as resident director last fall and made quite a commitment. As part of the position, she and her family moved into the ABC house in Manlius.

“The way a family operates, that’s very much the way we operate,” Martin-Coore said.

She is a mentor, counselor and, in many respects, mother to these teens. On any given night, the house is buzzing with activity — the stairs creak with frequent commuters running up and down, cell phones vibrate with text message alerts and gatherings in the kitchen or at the dinner table fuel constant conversation.

“I have a passion for working with young people, young women in particular,” says Martin-Coore, who also works as the academic coordinator for Le Moyne College’s Higher Education Preparation/Upward Bound Program. As a high schooler at Nottingham in Syracuse, Martin-Coore was herself a participant at Le Moyne before heading to SUNY Morrisville and eventually to Oswego.

“I like to help students achieve with the same opportunities that I have had in my life,” says Martin-Coore, who at Oswego was very active in ALANA and the Black Student Union — the community service projects, in particular.

Helping Students Succeed

La Rae M. Martin-Coore ’99, left, mentors girls in the A Better Chance, or ABC, program. Current students participating in the program squeeze into a room underneath the stairs. The tiny space includes an easy chair, telephone and — on the walls — the signatures of virtually every ABC participant dating back to the program’s beginning some 40 years ago.

Like Upward Bound, ABC focuses on getting talented students ready for college. The teens must meet high academic standards to qualify.

“This is just another experience for the students to have,” Martin-Coore says. “You get to learn about people from all walks of life and get along with all different people.

“That’s the college experience … and colleges recognize that too,” she says. “It sets you apart.”

Even the youngest in the house, freshman Tanaja Stephenson of Brooklyn, has college plans. “I like that I’m being challenged more than I would at home,” she says over a plate of chicken riggies with her housemates.

Many in this group of six, like junior Sara Elzeini of the Bronx, have aspirations to enter the medical field.

“I think it might be hard for some kids to go away to school,” says Elzeini, vice president of her class at Fayetteville-Manlius and a part-time swim instructor at the YMCA. “I feel like it won’t be a shock to me to go to college.”

The teens split up household chores and handle their own, like laundry, says Martin-Coore, who lives in the home with her husband, Zaire M. Coore ’98, and son, Zaire J. Coore.

Students spend all four years of high school at their ABC destination.

“You get to connect with people you would otherwise never have met,” said sophomore Kesi Rivera of Harlem. “This program opens a lot of doors.”

Martin-Coore hopes to one day open her own leadership academy for young women of color.

“I’m showing them who they can possibly become,” she says. “I know when I do that, I’m going to be blessed.

“It’s about being happy.”

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