PORTLAND — For many students, taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test is a nerve-wracking experience because of its impact on their college careers and, ultimately, their lives.

And, while some can afford prep books and classes, those whose families struggle to make ends meet may not be able to spend that extra money. It leaves them at a disadvantage when they pick up their No. 2 pencils.

But a new organization coming to the Portland area aims to change all that by offering free SAT prep classes and a college mentoring program to inner-city students.

Let’s Get Ready is national program that connects college students with high school students for mentoring, advice about applying for college, exam preparation and encouragement to continue their education.

“It’s an opportunity for young people to see their own ability and to find success with the SATs,” said Merle Nelson, an education advocate and former state representative from Falmouth.

The program began earlier this year with a group of students at the Portland YMCA and has moved on to a nine-week program at Deering High School. Program Director Nakia Navarro said she is hoping to run a spring session at Portland and Lewiston high schools.

“There’s one college student coach to five or six high school students,” she said. “We find students really need that personalized attention.”

Navarro said 93 percent of the program’s participants go directly to college after high school, and, on average, they improve their SAT scores by 110 points.

In addition to test preparation, the trained college mentors help students fill out their college applications and financial aid documents, give them tours of college campuses around the area, and generally encourage them to continue their education.

“This isn’t a hand out,” Nelson said. “It’s a hand up.”

The program charges a $25 fee to sign up, but if students attend at least 75 percent of the classes, they get the $25 back. During the school year, classes run for nine weeks. In the summer, classes are six weeks. Students and their mentors meet for three hours at a time.

“The kids gain confidence and that confidence carries on into the tests,” Nelson said.

Anyone interested in the program can attend an open house on Wednesday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. at Deering High School. Classes meet Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:30-8:30 p.m. through Dec. 5.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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