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Juxtaposed: Providence universities thrive while high schools nosedive

Victor M. Hunt

Apr 8, 2020

Can we restore our public high schools by integrating the culture of higher education?

Sprout and S.T.E.M. is a volunteer-based organization composed of graduate students with academic backgrounds in the natural sciences. My colleagues and I were determined to create this program in response to the publication of the state-funded Johns Hopkins educational study last July. The study elucidated the substandard conditions of the Providence public schools, which went on to receive negative attention at a national level. The Providence public schools were thoroughly reevaluated in what led to a takeover by the Rhode Island Department of Education in November of 2019.

Though I wasn’t entirely surprised by the study’s appraisal, I was entirely concerned by the extent and degree of the problems at hand. This scathing review exposed our capital as the regional flagship of broken educational systems. Rather than gripe, I decided to address the academic obstacles facing students and teachers by engaging the academic community. As a native of northern Rhode Island, I was well aware of the state’s prestigious post-secondary institutions. How was it that Providence boasted such highly renowned universities while its high schools settled as a punchline? It was ironic to me how Hope High School, the presumed protagonist of the Johns Hopkins study, proceeded down the path of disarray as the aura of Brown University glimmered in the background. Wasn’t the answer, or at least part of the solution, screaming us in the face?

Brown University, a prestigious Ivy League institution, and Hope High School, one of the lowest performing high schools in the region, sit merely hundreds of feet from one another in Providence.

Sprout and S.T.E.M. was founded on the premise of incorporating the academic culture of Providence-area universities with that of local public high schools. Our team is composed of highly-educated graduate students who willingly provide themselves as volunteer tutors. Our volunteers, who we endearingly refer to as mentors, provide themselves several days per week at the conclusion of the school day. We prefer the term mentor because our team does more than relay knowledge from brain to whiteboard. Mentors also serve as a professional network, routinely answering questions regarding the college application process, where to apply for an internship, and why they chose to pursue a career in science. Albeit, Sprout and S.T.E.M. has primarily taken the form of an after-school program focused on delivering high-quality tutoring in the subjects of biology, chemistry, and physics. We are proud to serve historically disadvantaged students and school systems, thereby narrowing one of the many gaps in the Providence educational community. Sprout and S.T.E.M. plans to continue our in-school program upon the remediation of COVID-19, but have since adopted an online forum free to all public high school students.

There is no question that health, safety, and satiety are society's utmost priorities as we aim to flatten the curve. Along with our healthcare workers and first responders, it’s important we highlight the efforts of the teachers and professors who have done all they can to maintain the provision of the highest quality education possible for their students, given the circumstances. In response to virtual learning, Sprout and S.T.E.M. has implemented a brand new online forum available to all Rhode Island public high school students. The purpose of this free forum is to provide students with additional academic resources in recognition of the challenges associated with virtual learning. Our team of mentors is prepared to tutor in the subjects of biology, chemistry, physics, and now mathematics, and will do all they can to provide students with additional assistance and clarification in hopes of alleviating some of the stress inherent to virtual learning.

You can find the forum at

(Updated July 22, 2021: This forum has since been discontinued)

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