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Volume 25, Number 5
September/October 2009

Bonding and Bridging

Schools open doors for students by building social capital


Students from Benjamin Franklin Intermediate School in a financial apprenticeship class at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco. (Citizen Schools)

Three years ago, J. Michael Wyss, a cell biology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, entered G. W. Carver High School and derailed Curtis Jones’ life plan. Wyss, who is also the director of the university’s Center for Community OutReach Development, needed an intern for a research project. Even though he already had 80 applications in hand for 20 spots, he hoped to give the opportunity to a student outside the usual network that feeds top science students to university labs.

“One of the teachers said, ‘There is someone who is on no one’s radar screen,” Wyss recalls. Biology teacher Vashone Todd put him in touch with Jones, a junior who ranked second in his class. Sure enough, Jones was envisioning a future more in line with expectations in his North Birmingham neighborhood, where nearly one in three households lives below the poverty line. “I told myself I would do some type of manual labor,” says Jones, “like factory work.”

It took serious pushing from Todd for Jones to consider the research internship opportunity. Without knowing any scientists personally, Jones says, “I was not sure I would be able to function in that kind of environment.”

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

Citizen Schools at Ben Franklin Intermediate School, Daly City, CA:

J. S. Coleman. “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital.” American Journal of Sociology 94 supplement (1988): S95–S120.

X. De Souza Briggs. “Brown Kids in White Suburbs: Housing Mobility and the Many Faces of Social Capital.” Housing Policy Debate 9, no. 1 (1998): 177-221. Available online in PDF at: 9(1)/hpd 9(1)_briggs.pdf

Kenwood Academy High School, Chicago, IL:

E. McNamara Horvat, E. B. Weininger, and A. Lareau. “From Social Ties to Social Capital: Class Differences in the Relations Between Schools and Parent Networks.” American Educational Research Journal 40, no. 2 (2003): 319–351.

Sligh Middle School, Tampa, FL:

The First Tee:

University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Community OutReach Development (CORD):