New York Times Features National Education Equity Lab & Partners

WASHINGTON — When Di’Zhon Chase’s teacher told her that she might be able to enroll in a Harvard University class, she was skeptical — and not just because the Ivy League school was more than 2,000 miles from her hometown, Gallup, N.M.

“Harvard isn’t part of the conversation — you don’t even hear that word in Gallup,” Ms. Chase said. “It isn’t something that adults expect out of us. I don’t think it’s because they don’t believe in us; it’s just so much is stacked against us.”

But in fall 2019, Ms. Chase joined a small group of students across the country in an experiment that sought to redefine what is possible for students who share her underprivileged background. Through an initiative started by a New York-based nonprofit, the National Education Equity Lab, hundreds of students are virtually rattling the gates of some of the nation’s most elite colleges by excelling in their credit-bearing courses before they leave high school.

The Equity Lab enrolled more than 300 11th and 12th graders from high-poverty high schools in 11 cities across the country in a Harvard course, “Poetry in America: The City From Whitman to Hip-Hop,” taught by a renowned professor, Elisa New. The high schoolers met the same rigorous standards of the course created for Harvard’s admitted students — they listened to lectures, took quizzes and completed essays, and they were graded by the same standards.

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