Union County Public Schools break down barriers for students taking the SAT

UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Union County Public Schools (UCPS) Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan is excited about a new initiative he has started. He says he was recently talking to a group of seniors and they told him how they had to pay for the college entrance exam SAT. He thought about the price of taking the SAT.

"Based on the demographics of our county, I started to wonder do we have low income youth that this could potentially be a barrier for - and the answer is yes," Houlihan said.

Houlihan says he wanted to remove those barriers. He says he wanted to get rid of that obstacle because there was no way to know how far a UCPS graduate could go after completing high school.

"If they can't take the SAT and your Tier 1's like a Duke or a Harvard or a Yale only accept the SAT, that's a big barrier for them, so we would never know. This year we will have that barrier completely removed," Houlihan said.

The UCPS board approved the district to pay for the cost of taking the SAT for all 11th graders. There are 3,526 11th graders in the district. The district will pay one time for the students to take the SAT.

"We want to be trailblazers. We want to be leaders and that's what we are doing," Houlihan said.

The superintendent says this past year only about 11 percent of African-American students took the SAT. He believes with the district picking up the tab for the SAT the number of African-American students who take the SAT will change.

"I expect that 11 percent to jump up to 80 plus percent this year," Houlihan said. "We are removing that barrier."

Students say having the district take care of that SAT expense can be a game changer for some.  Ejelma Okocha is a junior at Weddington High School. She knows students who don't take the SAT because they wait until the last minute to decide to take the exam.

"It's late registration and then they say oh the price has gone up. I can't even take it now because it's so expensive," Student Ejelma Okocha said.

Okocha says the free SAT will help her. She wants to take it until she gets a good score. She wants to be a doctor.

"It's important to get a better score because cause colleges sometimes say you need at least this score to get in," Okocha said.

The superintendent says not only will the district pay for the SAT but the SAT will come to the school. Students will take the SAT during class time.  They don't have to worry about taking it on a Saturday.  The superintendent says students getting to the SAT Saturday locations can sometimes be a challenge.

"If your mom or dad are working on a Saturday and you got to figure out how to get there. So again, we're excited about this. It's just one step in the right direction for our school district in terms of college and career ready," Houlihan said.

UCPS is also paying for 8th and 10th graders to take the PSAT and NMSQT. The district is also providing field trips for 4th and 7th graders to visit a college.

"If you don't expose kids at a very young age to the opportunities they have or the different environments they may never get the chance to go," Houlihan said.

UCPS juniors will take the SAT on April 24.  The district will automatically sign up each student and offer prep course for them, so they will be prepared.

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