WATERVILLE — Every Monday and Wednesday at 5 p.m., the Diamond building at Colby College begins to fill with 50 to 80 students from area high schools for a unique program.

The students are loud and energetic; they greet each other and high-five their instructors (who are all Colby students) before eventually separating into small classes in the Diamond and Lovejoy buildings. All of the students can be found in Dana dining hall at 5:45 p.m., eating dinner with their tutors and enjoying unlimited access to ice cream.

These students are coming to Colby for an SAT preparation course, but it is nothing like the well-known Kaplan or Princeton Review programs. This program is free to any student who wants to learn, and their small classes of around seven to 14 students are taught by Colby students.

The program, called “Let’s Get Ready,” has had success in a number of U.S. cities. Its price tag (or lack thereof) and its college student “coaches” are the most unique aspects of the program, which is overseen by Katie Flood, director of Maine programs for Let’s Get Ready.

“I wanted to first thank the Colby students and the staff in the Community Engagement Office for all their help and hard work supporting Let’s Get Ready,” Flood said. “This spring we have a student whose commute to the program is an hour each way! The connections that our students have made with their coaches of course are vital to what we do and is definitely what keeps them returning each night of the program.”

Let’s Get Ready provides free SAT preparation courses to high school students from historically under-served communities of low-income families and first-generation college students. These students also benefit from admissions mentorship and guidance from college students themselves. The program was founded with the goal of ensuring a future in which students, regardless of socioeconomic status, have the support they need to get equal access to higher education.

Since its founding, Let’s Get Ready has served more than 30,000 high school students from low-income backgrounds, mentored by 8,000 trained volunteer college coaches in partnership with schools and organizations. Their programs stretch from Lewiston, Maine to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The coaches for the Waterville program are all volunteers from Colby College. Two students are hired every year as supervisory site directors, and they work to organize and oversee coaches and high school students and to perform the administrative duties needed to run the program.

Betsy Hamre, graduating in 2021, has volunteered as a coach for two semesters, and is now one of the site directors. Hamre said she wishes she had had an accessible program like Let’s Get Ready when she was preparing for standardized tests in high school.

“We are the only free SAT tutoring program available in central Maine,” Hamre said. “So we have students traveling quite a bit to learn with us. It’s our responsibility to support these students.”

As of this spring, Let’s Get Ready has been on Colby’s campus for four years. In this time, more than 300 area students from 14 high schools, and from just about every town within a 30-minute radius of Waterville, have been taught and provided with free dinners.

To keep Let’s Get Ready free and accessible, the program relies on grants and generosity, often from local programs. The well-known Alfond Foundation has supported the program through grants.

The coaches and site directors emphasized the importance of the quality of their work and their role as representatives of Colby as a whole, saying they strive to use their skills to make a difference in the lives of their students.

“We hope our personal experiences and narratives can help students navigate their own transition to college,” Hamre said. “I am amazed at the commitment and talent of our Colby coaches who dedicate four hours of their busy weeks to the program. LGR is an example of Colby students engaging in the outside community to promote educational equity, teamwork, and student self-confidence.”

 

 


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