03/06/2012 12:29 pm ET Updated May 06, 2012

"Study-A-Thons" Level the SAT Test-Taking Field for All Students

Twenty-two 16-year-old Harlem students, dressed in their blue and white school uniforms, peer out the window of their classroom to see a squash game in progress. They're focused not just on seeing who will become the winner of today's squash match. They have a much more serious goal in mind. These students are intent on mastering the game of getting into college.

This unique study session is actually a new fundraising event called the GIFT SAT Study-a-thon, sponsored by the nonprofit Graph It Forward Today (GIFT). GIFT launched its new program last week at Street Squash, a Harlem-based enrichment program/center. By hosting an event that combines the game of squash with academics, Street Squash and Graph It Forward Today have teamed up to help prepare students for the SAT exams in March, May and June.

The SAT Study-a-thon at Street Squash kicked off what will become a nationwide effort to take place in schools and communities throughout the country starting now thru June. The program is designed to motivate students to raise money for graphing calculators, which retail for about $100 and may be out-of-budget for low income students. On the SAT, graphing calculators are used to increase speed and accuracy, and to help the student with higher level math computations.

Graph It Forward Today (GIFT), a new nonprofit founded by a renowned test prep expert and author with her team of volunteers, also known as "SAT Angels" -- is working to clear the way for all high school students to have equal access to the tools and prep needed to take the SAT/ACT exams and to gain admission to college.

Recent statistics show that students from lower socioeconomic classes score points lower on the SAT than students from higher income levels. GIFT was formed to "level the playing field for all college applicants" by providing supplies and services to high school students who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford them and by creating fundraising programs like the SAT Study-a-thon. The goal for students receiving the full "GIFT Package" of a graphing calculator paired with test prep services provided by WilsonDailyPrep is for their initial scores to increase by 130 points.

Here's how the Study-a-thon program works: students reach out to teachers, relatives and friends to raise a minimum of $25 towards purchasing graphing calculators. Many organizations like Street Squash will also support fundraising efforts by reaching out to their donors. In return, students pledge to study for their SAT/ACT exam with prep services donated by the test prep company Wilson Prep, and specifically their online test prep service, that can be done from the convenience of the student's home. Students are then asked to watch a test prep video, complete four test prep worksheets, utilize exercises and lessons from the book Write the SAT Essay Right, and then take a full SAT or ACT exam.

Says Nina Auerbach, Program Director at GIFT: "Students in our Study-a-thon program are inspired to practice and review for their own SAT exam while raising funds so that others will also have access to essential SAT exam tools and prep. This program not only educates students but also provides invaluable community service, teaching students how to help themselves as well as help others."

During the Study-a-thon event at Street Squash, Nina asked each of the students to write down their goals. Here's what one student wrote, "My name is Ramsey. I am a very energetic and eclectic person who has an open mind to many things. I love animals and computers. In the future I hope to become a computer engineer and the graphing calculator that I'm raising money for will change my future by giving me greater access to the SAT, as well as upcoming college courses."

Nina returned to the Street Squash classroom with a graphing calculator in hand for Ramsey and other students. There was cheering, and a lot of hugs and hope. And, there was a sense of relief that every student there will now have an equal chance of scoring high on this critical test. Let the SATs now begin!

Students of all income levels can participate in or create a Study-a-thon by going on GIFT's website.