Warner Canto is a founding member and Vice President of the Student/Partner Alliance (S/PA). The S/PA is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization based in Newark, New Jersey, which provides educationally and economically disadvantaged young people with the opportunity to receive a quality high school education in a private school as an alternative to their zoned public school. In many New Jersey cities, such as Newark, the graduation rate of high school students is below 50% and the state has taken over some school boards.
S/PA recruits individuals, called Partners, who commit to support a student throughout their four years in high school. The commitment is in the form of time and money. Typically, a partner donates between $2,000 and $4,000 which covers tuition. In addition, Partners monitor the student's progress, provide counseling and teach career and life skills.
In 1993 when S/PA began, Mr. Canto took a year's leave of absence from his employer to ensure that the program's start would be successful. During this time, he appealed and received financial support from different philanthropic foundations and organizations, such as American Express and the Link Foundation. S/PA has received foundation grants that cover all administrative costs of the program allowing all partner contributions to go to student tuition.
Another component of S/PA is a partnership with Footstar, Inc. Each year, Essex Catholic High School of East Orange, New Jersey, provides Footstar, Inc. with a list of juniors and seniors that would have to drop out due to financial problems. The company provides financial scholarships to these students.
Through his efforts, the number of partners in the program has increased from 19 to 50 and the numbers of students has increased from 29 to 150. Since the program began, S/PA has annually graduated 98% of its students and all but one, who joined the military, has gone on to four-year colleges.