Tuesday, June 27, 2006

New Jersey's Governor's School: Update from Laura Overdeck

Following up on yesterday's post... New Jersey's Governor's School, the prestigious, free summer program for gifted high school students, had been canceled due to budget cuts. Thanks to private donations, the programs will run as planned this summer.

On the webpage for the New Jersey Governor's School of Science (to be held at Drew University), the school specifically thanks John and Laura Overdeck for their generous contributions, which allowed the school to stay open. Mrs. Overdeck graduated from Princeton a few years before I did, so I contacted her through the school's alumni directory.

First, she told me she's reading Genius Denied!

Second, it turns out that she was a Governor's Scholar in Science in 1986, the program's third year. "It was an amazing, life-altering experience: it's a big reason I went on to major in astrophysics at Princeton," she told me. "I also made lifelong friends, one of whom was in my wedding a few years ago."

When Corzine announced the budget cut, NJGSS notified alumni, including Overdeck. "My husband John and I are wholehearted advocates of gifted education, self-pacing, accelerated curriculum, and programs that recognize and nurture young talent (he was an early attendee of Johns Hopkins' CTY-SET)," she says. "So after some discussion, we decided to offer to fund the Governor's School in Science for this summer." Their $200,000 donation would pretty much cover the program's costs.

But, amazingly, when Overdeck offered the state $200,000 to keep the program running, the state rejected it! She was told the program simply had to shut down. "This upset me enough that I notified the Newark Star-Ledger. Others had complained as well, and it hit the front page that week."

Long story short, NJ decided to accept the $200,000 and also recruited former state first lady Ruthi Byrne to raise the $1.9 million necessary to keep all six schools open this summer.

From her interactions with Corzine and others, Overdeck says she thinks state leaders believe NJ Governor's School should continue as a tuition-based program. The thinking is that some families can afford to pay, so why not ask them to contribute? But those families already have other options, such as summer programs at Harvard and other universities. What makes NJ Governor's School unique is that it doesn't charge tuition. Kids who can't afford expensive summer programs are as welcome as those who can. No need to apply for scholarships or financial aid. No one decides not to apply because of sticker shock. Says Overdeck, "John and I strongly believe it should remain free for all attendees. It's an honor to be selected, and tuition-free ensures that talented kids of all income groups can go."

As I said yesterday, I'm thrilled that NJ's gifted high school students still have this option, thanks to gifts from people like the Overdecks. Of course, I can't help thinking of the parallels. Can you imagine if Corzine had announced that there was no more funding for bilingual education, and that if people thought it was important, they could step up to the plate and raise the money themselves? Various state and federal laws mean he can't do that. But no one requires states to put their money where there mouths are when it comes to meeting the needs of gifted kids.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is no Federal mandate for bilingual education. In california, bilingual education was almost outlawed (parents have to sign waivers if they want their kids to get into a bilingual class).