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updated: 5/29/2011 8:26 AM

Warren grads in special program heading to prestigious colleges

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Warren Township High School in Gurnee has graduated its first class of students who were part of a foundation's academic program designed to provide them the tools to enter exclusive colleges.

Officials at Gurnee-based Warren District 121 say they couldn't be more pleased with the results for the 24 Schuler scholars who will attend prestigious schools such as Yale, Bucknell and Vanderbilt universities.

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Warren's commencement was Saturday at Northwestern University in Evanston.

Jeff Brierton, principal of the freshmen-sophomore O'Plaine Road campus, said the Schuler Family Foundation's financial outlay wasn't about giving money to the students to attend colleges.

Brierton said the foundation spent more than $1.5 million on tutoring for the Warren students, which helped open the door to the top-shelf universities.

"That's an incredible investment on (Schuler's) part," said Brierton, who was involved with the foundation while Round Lake High's principal.

Launched in 2001 by former Abbott Laboratories executive and private investor Jack Schuler, the foundation prepares financially disadvantaged, high-potential students to succeed at the most competitive private colleges and universities.

Schuler now has programs at Maine East High School in Park Ridge, Waukegan High School, Round Lake High School, St. Martin dePorres High School in Waukegan, Highland Park High School and Warren.

To qualify, eighth-graders must demonstrate a solid academic record and receive recommendations from teachers and counselors. An elite group of applicants is invited to interview with Schuler foundation staff members, who also talk to parents to gauge family support.

Schuler scholars often are the first in their families to attend college, and for whom higher education would be unlikely without financial assistance.

Janell Cleland, director for Schuler's Warren program, said the school has evolved into the Lake Forest-area foundation's home base for its activities. She said an admissions boot camp and a college panel for students and parents were held in the 2010-11 academic year.

In addition, Cleland said, more than 300 students and their parents gathered at Warren's O'Plaine Road campus in Gurnee in February for an inaugural showcase that demonstrated Schuler scholars are more than intellectuals.

"They can sing, they can dance and they can play guitars and they can be in bands and all forms of music," Cleland said.

Schuler scholars at Warren and elsewhere were led on tours of elite colleges in the Midwest and both coasts during the just-concluded school year. The teens are required to participate in extracurricular activities and community service.

"These kids took the challenge and made it," Brierton said of Warren's first Schuler graduates.

Slightly more than $1 million in financial aid, excluding loans, has been obtained for the Warren grads to attend the four-year schools, according to the foundation. The assistance was determined by financial need and academic merit.

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