The origins of LEEP
LEEP group photo, 1974.
By Leslie Schuyler
The following piece was originally published in the fall 2014 Lakeside magazine, during the 50th anniversary of the Lakeside Educational Enrichment Program.
Anniversaries always spark a sense of curiosity about origins. When reflecting on how the Lakeside Educational Enrichment Program began, it’s important to look closely at historical context. To truly understand LEEP’s origins, we need to go back a decade before its birth year of 1965.
By the 1950s, racial discrimination had been in force in Seattle neighborhoods for decades. Neighborhood covenants barred Asian Americans, Native Americans, and African Americans from owning or selling homes north of Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal, drawing a race line between the north and south ends of the city.
Until the late ’60s, African Americans were not allowed to be in “white neighborhoods” at night according to informal “sundown rules” enforced by Seattle police. Seattle’s segregation wasn’t written into law, but decades of restrictive covenants and de facto segregation had taken their toll.
In 1954 the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision banned de jure racial segregation in public schools. During the next decade, courts heard hundreds of cases contesting school integration. By 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.
Segregation in public schools was illegal, but what about private schools? In the spring of 1963, President John F. Kennedy had addressed this issue in a speech he gave at The Choate School, the elite boarding school that was his alma mater. He spoke about the responsibilities that accompany inherited wealth: “Those fortunate enough to go to private, preparatory schools must justify their special opportunity and fulfill their special obligation.” He also warned that private schools would not survive if they became “the exclusive possession of a single class, or creed, or color.”
Lakeside’s diversification began before 1963. In the early ’40s, Robert Simeon “Sim” Adams, school headmaster, had tried to admit a Chinese American student, but his efforts were thwarted by the Board of Trustees. Dexter Strong, the school’s next headmaster, enrolled Lakeside’s first Asian American in the early ’50s. Although we can’t say for sure that Strong heard Kennedy’s Choate speech, we do know that he felt the school needed to broaden its base. And so did the faculty, who, according to board meeting minutes from October 1963, had “a very deep feeling that we should grant more scholarships to encourage a broader cross-section of students to come to Lakeside.”
Recruiting students of limited means proved difficult for a school that hadn’t yet built a strong endowment for scholarships or financial aid.
But recruiting students of color was especially difficult, in part due to the location of Lakeside at the far north end of a city that had barred its African American, Asian American, and Native American residents from living anywhere near it.
“It was a new summer program, inaugurated in 1965,” wrote Dexter Strong in his memoir, “that finally made integration a significant reality.” The Lakeside Educational Enrichment Program was modeled after a similar program held the summer before in the Boston area.
In response to Kennedy’s speech and the social foment of the ’50s and ’60s, several East Coast private schools partnered with Dartmouth College to recruit students from underserved areas and provide them with an intensive summer experience to prepare them for the rigors of private-school academics. The ultimate goal was to place them in a select school that fall. This program was called A Better Chance, or ABC.
Jim and Peter Steil, brothers and Lakeside alumni from the Classes of ’62 and ’61 respectively, read about a program (likely ABC) in a 1965 issue of Time magazine and were inspired to draft a proposal for Lakeside that spring. “Lakeside was ideally suited for such a program,” says Peter. The school was underused in the summer, there were only a few students of color enrolled, and “the program could potentially demonstrate Lakeside’s commitment to education more broadly within the city.”
During a break from college, the Steil brothers presented their proposal to Strong and Dan Ayrault, then head of the Upper School. Peter recalled that Strong and Ayrault’s enthusiasm grew over the course of the meeting. So much so that Peter has “often wondered if it might not have been in the back of their minds, somewhere.”
During initial planning meetings, Strong suggested the name Lakeside Educational Enrichment Program, or LEEP. He appointed Ayrault its first director, “thus guaranteeing its success.”
Ayrault wrote about the impetus for the program in a LEEP report in August of 1965: “Boys who believe their future opportunities are limited by reason of race or finance are likely to set correspondingly limited goals for themselves. LEEP was conceived in faith that eight years hence (when these boys leave college) there will be abundant opportunity, indeed an increasing demand, for those who have prepared themselves for a rapidly changing world with the flexibility of a liberal education. It is therefore important for society, as well as the individual, that able boys from various disadvantaged backgrounds be directed to goals valid, not for the present reality but for what the future will demand.”
The Seattle Foundation provided $5,000 in seed money that first summer and a little more than $4,000 was raised from a variety of foundations and individuals. Lakeside held back enough financial-aid funds in 1965 to grant scholarships to two LEEP graduates to attend Lakeside as sophomores: T.J. Vassar Jr. ’68 and Floyd Gossett Jr. ’68. A third LEEP graduate, Fred Mitchell ’68, came later in the year.
Thus began LEEP: Lakeside’s program with a public-minded purpose that held the added benefit of introducing Lakeside to communities outside of what had been the school’s traditional reach.
For the past five decades, LEEP has changed lives — graduates to date number some 3,600 students in the Seattle area — and helped shape the Lakeside of today. Its goal now is to deepen and strengthen that impact into the future. Happy birthday, LEEP, and many, many more!
Leslie A. Schuyler is archivist for the Jane Carlson Williams ’60 Archives at Lakeside School. Reach her at 206-440-2895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact her if you have questions or materials to donate, or visit the archives Web page at www.lakesideschool.org/archives.