How the SEED School Is Changing Lives

Inner-City Boarding School Is Achieving Academic Breakthrough

A few miles from the White House in southeast Washington sit some of the worst public schools in America. The students there are mostly poor, mostly black, and their test scores are low. Only one in three finish high school; of those who do go on to college, just five percent graduate.

But right in the middle of this same area is also one of the most successful and innovative public schools in the country. Started in 1998, the school is called SEED. It's the nation's first urban public boarding school.

Ninety one percent of the students finish high school, and 95 percent go on to college. It's a charter school that's getting national attention. Admission is by lottery, open to any family in the district willing to take a chance.

Full Segment: The SEED School
Web Extra: Community Matters
Web Extra: Role Models
Web Extra: Planting The College Seed
Web Extra: Winning The Lottery
The SEED Foundation

This last spring, parents and children showed up for a lottery with a unique prize: a $35,000-per year education paid for by private and government money.

Only a third of the over 200 or so kids who applied heard their number called. With a child's future at stake, emotions ran high.

The Grants were one of the families who won the chance to change their child's life.

Asked what it felt like to hear their number called, Purcell Grant told "60 Minutes" correspondent Byron Pitts, "It was shocking. I did not think that was gonna happen."

"When he said 38, I didn't hear anything but joy," Margaret Grant added.

Asked why this means so much to them, Margaret Grant replied. "It's called opportunity. We've never had that before. So why not grab it if you can. Here, you know, the sky is the limit."

With a big smile, the winning student, Taylor Grant, also thought this was good news.

SEED is the brainchild of Raj Vinnakota and Eric Adler. The two former businessmen quit their jobs 13 years ago to take an old idea and make it new.

"There's boarding schools for rich kids; why aren't there boarding schools for poor kids?" Vinnakota said. "The intense academic environment, the 24-hour aspect and constant access to role models. Why wouldn't all of those things be just as important for poor kids as it would be for rich kids?"

"We believe very strongly that there is a group of kids for whom the answer is a 24-hour supportive educational environment. And they're not gonna have a shot if we don't give it to them," Adler added.

It all starts on SEED's campus, a four-acre oasis, a safe zone where 340 kids can focus on school, free from distractions back at home.

SEED's goal is to prepare these children academically and socially for college and beyond. The students enter in sixth and seventh grade; 80 percent of them performing below grade level.

Charles Adams is the head of school. "We're a public school and we have a lottery, we get what we get. It could be an honor roll student, it could be a student three, four grade levels behind that's struggling with a number of issues at home. So we get the gamut," she explained.

According to Adams, there are sixth graders who enter the program with a second grade reading level.

Asked if a child like that will be going to college, Adams said, "Why not? Why not?"

"Because they're way behind. Because they don't read at a proper reading level. They're behind in math, they're behind in science," Pitts remarked. "They're behind in reading."

"I'll take all of that. And they could be a pain in the neck. That's my starting point," Adams replied.

Asked if he thinks it's working, Adams told Pitts, "I know it's working."