Two years in, Promise receives new leader

New Haven Promise, a Yale-funded scholarship and support program created to encourage college enrollment, received a new assistant director in August.

Suzanne Lyons, a Newington, Conn. native and social worker specializing in college access, was appointed to New Haven Promise in August, the organization announced earlier this week. Designed as a tool to keep talented youth in state and enhance New Haven’s economic development, the 2-year-old program has awarded 138 scholarships and more than an estimated $323,000 to graduating seniors who attend colleges in Connecticut.

Lyons received the position after 10 years of service in out-of-school programs, University-community collaborations and national nonprofit organizations. Formerly the associate director of the University of Pennsylvania High School Upward Bound, Lyons left Pennsylvania amid uncertainty regarding the program’s fiscal future, accepting her “dream job” in Connecticut.

“I’m excited to be in a city that is galvanized with making sure that we’re investing in our children’s education,” Lyons said.

The addition of Lyons to the New Haven Promise staff is one of many changes the organization has seen since its foundation in November 2010. Originally just a scholarship program, New Haven Promise has collaborated with support programs like College Summit, a non-profit organization that encourages college attendance in 170 high schools across 12 states. In the fall of 2011, New Haven Promise partnered with College Summit to create Pathways to Promise — a program that developed curriculums integrating college goals in kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms.

As the number of scholarship recipients in college increases, the organization plans to focus not only on college access, but also on college success. Lyons will supervise the creation of the Promise College Support Network, a system she said will provide a “continuum of services” including connections to professors, other Promise scholars and New Haven businesses and nonprofit organizations.

New Haven Promise now extends its services to 11 high schools, 35 elementary schools and five transitional schools throughout the state of Connecticut. Greg Baldwin, principal of New Haven academy, is particularly supportive of the program.

“We’re trying to instill a college-going culture, and New Haven Promise has helped kids realize that money is not an obstacle,” Baldwin said. He also said he admires the organization’s effectiveness in spreading its message, adding that the college-going culture has “really filtered down into younger generations.”

Essence Staton, a student at New Haven Academy, said she agreed.

“[New Haven Promise] motivates kids to want to learn,” Staton said.

Familiar with the program since middle school, Staton, a high school sophomore, said she dreams of attending Spelman College in Atlanta. But Promise scholarships, designed to promote an increase in college-trained professionals in the New Haven community, are only awarded to students attending in-state colleges. Two years away from college, Staton has signed the program’s pledge and is still a potential recipient.

“While New Haven students may choose not to go to school in Connecticut, it is reassuring that they will have the option to have an almost-free education,” said Devin Mahoney ’16, a Timothy Dwight freshman who received the scholarship earlier this year.

The New Haven Promise team will canvass Fair Haven neighborhoods on Oct. 13 for Boost!, a partnership between the city, school district and the United Way of Greater New Haven that provides social services for students and their families.

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