NEWARK — As Rhonda Auguste of Colonia welcomed former students, parents, and educators to a celebration marking the 25th anniversary of the Newark-based Wight Foundation, she shared some of her own memories.
The longtime director of the foundation, which broadens opportunities for gifted inner city youth by sending them to college preparatory boarding schools, described driving a nervous eleven year old student to boarding school, and then four years later, taking her to college. She recalled a day when she packed her mini-van with five students and took them on the Foundation’s first college tour.
It was clear why Ms. Auguste was being honored with an award recognizing her hard work, passion and dedication to hundreds of Wight Foundation scholars in her 24-year career there. The award was presented to Auguste on Sept. 20 at The Wight Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Gala at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. A small globe suspended in a glass octagon, inscribed with the words, “Our leader, our heart and soul. Changer of lives.”
“She’s really everything in this foundation. She’s made us what we are,” said Russell B. Wight Jr., the former New Jersey real estate investor who established and privately funds the foundation.
Auguste is executive director of the organization, which provides opportunities for academically gifted youth to attend boarding schools in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions in preparation for the most competitive colleges in America.
“What excites me is the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of extremely talented young people,” said Auguste. “The foundation has been a true blessing in my life and the lives of others. As I often tell my students and families, working at the Foundation is so much more than a job. It’s an incredible experience.”
Auguste was born in Trinidad and migrated to New York City at a young age with her family, seeking a better life. While attending Public School 208 in Harlem, she was singled out as a candidate for one of New York City’s most prestigious private day schools because of her excellent grades and zest for learning.
After earning a scholarship to attend The Spence School, an elite private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, she went on to Harvard University, majoring in Sociology and Afro-American Studies. She also earned a Master of the Arts degree in Education from Seton Hall University.
Now she is helping other inner city youth make the same pivotal journey.
The Foundation was established by Wight, who believes that if you provide bright and motivated students from districts that lack resources, with smaller class sizes, a wider selection of courses, a fully vested faculty and top notch facilities, they will gain admission to the finest and most competitive colleges in America.
In 1986, the first five students were sent to boarding schools. Wight immediately realized that he had an idea that would work, but he needed a more formal program.
In 1987, Auguste joined the Foundation. Having shared common experiences with her students, Auguste offered an unique perspective on what the foundation needed to accomplish to ensure the success of her students.
The foundation, which has evolved under Auguste’s direction, recruits students from the Greater Newark Area. Through an application process, students are selected in the seventh grade for the Foundation’s Scholars Training and Enrichment Program (STEP) housed at the Foundation’s offices on Park Place in Newark.
“It is not a matter of simply sending students away to boarding schools. It is imperative that a structure is in place that provides ongoing support. Success is a result of providing academic enrichment, proper placement and consistent support. We expect our students to take ownership of their learning.” says Auguste,
To prepare for the academic rigor of boarding schools, they participate in a six week program in the summer and attend classes on Wednesdays and Saturdays during their eighth grade year.
Auguste, full of energy and enthusiasm, is always excited about interacting with her students. “We are committed to preparing our students emotionally, socially and academically,” says Auguste. “We work diligently to equip our students with the necessary tools to thrive in boarding school.”
Although the Foundation has grown under her direction, it is small enough to stay personal. “She knows everything about every child in the history of the program,” said Wight. “She knows where they went to school and where they went to college.”
Lucero Cano was one of many guests at the celebration who gave Auguste a standing ovation. Cano, of Elizabeth, has a 16-year-old son in the Wight Foundation program who is now attending boarding school in Massachusetts.
“Everything about her is in the superlative,” Cano said. “She’s unique, amazing, and dedicated. She has a passion for working with the students.”
For more information on the Wight Foundation, visit www.wightfoundation.org
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