Michael Anderson has a word of advice to parents looking to better their children's education: Take them out of school.
Out of public school, that is, and expose them to opportunities afforded by private secondary schools virtually unknown to many parents living in the inner city.
Anderson runs the Los Angeles chapter of A Better Chance, a nonprofit program that recruits inner-city junior high and high school students, places them in private schools and helps prepare them for admission to private colleges across the country.
At an open meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Audubon Middle School, Anderson expects to take his message of maximizing educational opportunities to parents who are aware of their child's potential but may not be sure how to develop it fully.
"We inform families of the private school opportunities out there now that they may not know of, or feel they don't have a shot at," said Anderson, the program's sole officer for nearly 20 years. "We tell kids that, yes, they can attend schools like Crossroads and Brentwood, and later colleges like Harvard. Once they get into our program, that's what they do."
Getting into the program, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is another matter. A Better Chance takes only those sixth- to 10th-graders who have very good academic records, exhibit leadership qualities, demonstrate a strong desire to achieve and pass a standardized entrance exam for independent schools. Out of about 350 applicants whom Anderson and a 35-member committee interview each fall, just 40 are chosen for the program. Virtually all of the program participants who graduate from high school each year go on to college, Anderson said.
"But we encourage kids who may not make it to study harder or straighten our their attitudes, and reapply the following year," Anderson sad. "The whole thrust of A Better Chance is pushing kids to push themselves to excel. They have to want to shoot for the top."
Based in Boston and funded by a host of private grants, A Better Chance operates nationwide and is affiliated with 170 private secondary and post-secondary schools that agree to fully or partially finance the education of those students they accept from the program. Students feed from participating secondary schools into such venerable institutions as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Howard and Morehouse.
Once accepted into the program, the student must then enroll in one of the private secondary schools affiliated with A Better Chance; those in the Los Angeles area include Crossroads in Santa Monica, Windward in Palms and Harvard-Westlake in West Los Angeles. A Better Chance is also affiliated with some well-regarded public junior high and high schools.
Seventh-grade program participant Kellye Franklin, who started at Brentwood School this month, said that although private school seemed "really scary at first," she is enjoying such benefits as smaller classes and courses like human development.
"It's a pretty big change, but I love it," said Kellye, a Central Los Angeles resident who aspires to be a veterinarian. "I get a lot of attention. I don't feel anxious about doing well anymore."
Information: (213) 740-2601.