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More than 1,000 NYC first graders’ college savings accounts set to grow by total of $1 million

Cayla Bamberger

NY Daily News

Roughly 1,200 first graders from a Brooklyn school district with the city’s highest proportion of Black students are seeing $1,000 added to their new college savings accounts, the result of donations from Bloomberg Philanthropies and a local foundation.

The Save for College Program, a public-private partnership, will announce a $1 million investment Tuesday in the college and career plans of age-eligible students in School District 18, spanning from Canarsie to East Flatbush.

Divvied up among all the first graders in the area, the donation amounts to 10 times the savings they received as a citywide seed investment last spring.

Helen Brizard, the parent of a first grader at P.S. 276, received a savings account last school year with a $100 donation toward college costs. But when Brizard, a six-year resident of the district, checked the account again this week, she found another $1,000 added to the initial figure.

“It was like winning the lottery without paying for the ticket,” said Brizard, whose daughter has plans to become a doctor, lawyer or beautician — and already owns the child-size lab coat and hair doll to start honing her skills.

Brizard had already been saving up for higher education, which she told the Daily News was important to her family and paves the way for better jobs. But the additional funds are a “relief,” she added — “because I know that there’s something there for her.”

Proponents of the program cite research showing students are more likely to attend and graduate from college if their families start saving early. Even accounts with less than $500 have been shown to increase by three times the likelihood that students enroll in college, and those students are more than four times more likely to get a diploma than a child without an account, advocates say.

The accounts are funded through a partnership between NYC Kids RISE, the Department of Education and the City of New York, with backing from the Brooklyn Community Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies Greenwood Initiative.

Roughly 86% of students in District 18 are Black — the largest share of any geographic school district in the city. Students who live in public housing at the Bayview or Breukelen Houses in Canarsie also qualify for the funding if they attend charter schools.

“We are building this universal, community-driven, wealth-building platform for New York City neighborhoods. So one of the focuses is how can we support investments in communities, in students, who have been historically excluded?” said Debra-Ellen Glickstein, executive director of NYC Kids Rise.

This spring, roughly 65,000 families of then-kindergarteners citywide were given savings accounts with the $100 donation. Nearly 97 percent of students were enrolled, Glickstein said, “just by going to public school.”

The college savings program allows for parents and anyone else to add money to the students’ accounts, paving the way for local scholarships like the initiative announced this week.

“There’s a huge wealth gap between Black and white Americans, and we know education is a huge part of closing that wealth gap,” said Jocelynne Rainey, foundation president and chief executive officer of the Brooklyn Community Foundation.

The citywide initiative grew out of a 2017 pilot program to start college savings accounts for more than 13,000 students in District 30 in Queens.

Now in its second year across the five boroughs, the program will be expanded to the next class of kindergartners next month. Students who did not attend a New York City public school in kindergarten will also be able to join the first-grade cohort.

To date, the city’s first graders have altogether reaped nearly $6.6 million in their savings accounts.

“We are thrilled to continue partnering to ensure all students have an asset to apply towards college and career, and a village that believes in their success,” said Sideya Sherman, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Equity, in a statement. “When we invest in children, we’re making a down payment on the future of our city.”