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In St. Louis, Efforts To Help Low Income Students Go A Long Way

The last of this week's coverage from St. Louis examines education in the region. Judy Woodruff looks at a group's efforts to make college a reality for low-income students in the midst of the economic downturn.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, two reports from St. Louis, the final in our spotlight city series. Tonight, education.

    I was there last week and profiled a group trying to make college a reality for inner-city students in the midst of the economic downturn.

    The sun is not yet up in north St. Louis when 19-year-old Zebedee Williams starts his day at 4 a.m.

    Given Williams' story, he's not someone you'd expect to have college as a realistic goal. His father wasn't present in his life, and his mother has been out of work for two years. Williams takes a 90-minute bus ride to high school, where he's a senior. It's a struggle for him to come up with the $3 fare.

    And until recently, the school he attends, Roosevelt High, struggled with gangs, poor attendance, and little discipline. Its problems weren't unique among St. Louis schools.

    Over the past several decades, St. Louis families have increasingly abandoned the public schools here, moving their children to county schools, to parochial and private schools, and to charter schools that draw per-pupil dollars from the public school system. In recent years, those moves have accelerated.

    Steve Giegerich has covered local education for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He says the children who remain in the public system come from the neediest of backgrounds.

  • STEVE GIEGERICH, St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

    Poverty, lack of health care, crime, violence, drugs, parental neglect, you name it. Every hallmark of poverty that you could name is what we're dealing with, with a lot of these kids.

    And it's not that these kids are bad kids. They just don't know how to get from A and — if college is Z — to get to Z. It's not ingrained in them.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But Zebedee Williams, whose long days include football and band practice, is planning on making it to college.

  • ZEBEDEE WILLIAMS, student:

    Knowing that I'm going to go to college is like — it's putting me on another level, because, you know, I feel like I can become anything I want to be.

    It seems like everybody's starting to look up to me now, because I'm doing things that my family hasn't done. And it makes me feel like I'm actually, like, putting my print in history right now.