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Innovative program opens doors for some of Aquidneck Island's most at-risk students.

The correlation between a child's academic success and a family's socioeconomic standing is well documented—the better off your parents are, the better you are likely to do in school. While poverty is a barrier, it's obviously not an insurmountable one. Where children really suffer is when parental drug abuse or incarceration enter the mix. Those are the children who find it most difficult to escape the intergenerational cycle of poverty, drug use, disease, depression, and violence.

Enter Star Kids, an innovative program that seeks to break that cycle, by offering a private school education to high-risk, low-income children with an incarnated or recovering drug-addicted parent.

The privately funded non-profit was founded by Dr. Timothy Flanagan, whose work with HIV-positive female inmates revealed a heartbreaking reality: their greatest fear was what was going to become of their children. It was clear to Flanagan that these children were a subset of the population that would need extra support.

Why private schools? According to Executive Director Kathleen Burke, "a lot of our families are in transition, and a private school can be the one part of their lives that remains constant, even as a family is moving from one community to another." In addition, class sizes tend to be smaller, and the setting is more intimate, which provides for greater accountability. "Our schools really do an amazing job supporting these children," Ms. Burke says. "They are best served by lots of one-on-one attention."

Star Kids raises money throughout the year, which goes to cover tuition, books, uniforms, and extracurricular actives such as sports fees and piano lessons. With a budget of about $600,000 per year, and some 150 children in the program from elementary through high school, every dollar counts.

"The schools have really worked with us" notes Ms. Burke. "We wouldn't be able to serve even a fraction of these children without the schools' commitment to our program."

Serving students on Aquidneck Island and well as the cities of Fall River and New Bedford, Star Kids has placed students at St. Philomena and Pennfield, St. Michael's, Cluny, All-Saints Academy, Portsmouth Abbey, Bishop Connolly and Bishop Stang, among others.

The program's results speak for themselves. In addition to students at the schools mentioned above, graduates have moved on to colleges and universities including Notre Dame, Northeastern, and the Wentworth Institute of Technology, as well as the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. According to one current parent, Star Kids provides "more than aid or a good education, it's hope, it's joy, it's love. Children are a precious gift and this program understands that." For Ms. Burke, watching Star Kids succeed, and ultimately earn their diplomas, is incredibly gratifying: "I am humbled every day."

Fundraising events throughout the year include September's Star Ride, and the "Reach for the Stars" annual soiree which also celebrates about-to-be graduates. To learn more about Star Kids, visit www.starkidsprogram.org. To donate, send checks to the Star Kids Scholarship Fund, PO Box 6214, Middletown, RI 02842.

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