Community Foundation of New Jersey

Fundholder Helps Students Find the Words to Succeed

Memorial High School in West New York has changed a lot since Jim Lynch graduated in 1948. But that hasn’t stopped him from giving back to his alma mater — and making a difference in the lives of its students.

As chairman of the Community Foundation Scholarship Committee, Lynch has reviewed many scholarship applications from students at inner-city schools. He noticed that SAT scores were lower at Memorial than at comparable schools, and wanted to know why.

“I talked about it with people inside and outside Memorial,” says Lynch, “and the problem seemed to be vocabulary.” Memorial’s student body is more than 90% Hispanic, and many students speak Spanish at home with their families. Because they converse in English less often than their peers, bilingual students have fewer opportunities to acquire new words and expand their vocabularies.

Memorial students’ SAT scores reflect this reality, says Lynch. “The vocabulary section is the problem. When it comes to math, they do fine.” Surprisingly, they also score well on the essay section. “They express themselves well when they can choose their own words,” says Lynch. But mastering vocabulary words in multiple-choice format is a different kind of challenge.

Lynch recognized the need for students to improve their performance on standardized tests. “They will get into better colleges if they get better SAT scores,” he says. “And they can compete for better scholarships.”

In hopes of helping more students succeed, he teamed up with school officials to address the situation. As they brainstormed, an idea emerged: a customized SAT preparation class with an emphasis on vocabulary. Test specialists at Princeton Review agreed to create the course.

This fall, thanks in part to a grant from the Lynch Family Fund, qualifying sophomores and juniors at Memorial will be able to attend after-school SAT prep classes tailored to their specific needs. The six-week course will be offered for $50 instead of the usual $350.

Jim Lynch believes firmly in the power of education to change lives. “It’s the only way these kids are going to break the chains of poverty,” he says. Over the years, he has used his fund to award scholarships and open new doors for young people.

By providing Memorial High School students with an opportunity many kids take for granted, he’s helping to make sure that their dreams for the future aren’t lost in translation.