Still, for most of the 145 kids who started 9th grade at Franklin in 2005, the pipeline to college fell apart before it even got started.
Seventy-two earned a high school diploma.
Seventy-three have not.
Now 20 years old, Ayanna Roney is rushing to get to school.
She's back at Benjamin Franklin High.
Three years after failing to graduate with the rest of Franklin's class of '09, Roney is still trying to make up the three classes she needs to earn her diploma. Her latest effort has taken her back to her old school, where the District runs one of its night school programs for over-age and under-credited students.
"My high school diploma is not my last stop. I want to get that out of the way so I can go to college," says Roney.
First, though, she must wrestle her 2½-year-old son, Kaimir, into his clothing.
"It's him that's gonna slow it up," she says, laughing as her son avoids her attempts to put his pants on.
Roney's career at Franklin started smoothly.
Like Boanes, she was a Success Center regular. During daily afterschool visits as an 11th grader, she hatched a plan to go to college to study theater and communications.
But during her senior year, things fell apart abruptly.
"I started hanging around a couple of new people," she says, "and they brought drama with them."
After taking part in a major brawl, Roney was suspended. Her grades slipped. She started cutting more classes.
"It was like quicksand," she says.
At the end of 12th grade, Roney found out that the hodgepodge of credits she had accumulated wasn't enough to graduate on time.
She started summer school, then found out she was pregnant.
She re-enrolled at Fels High, but was derailed when her son was born three months prematurely, requiring extended intensive care.
"I just wanted him to be OK," said Roney. "Everything else was, 'I'll get to it.'"
Later attempts to get into a GED program and the alternative-pathway programs YouthBuild and Gateway to College didn't work out.
It wasn't until Roney placed a call to principal Johnson – three years later, she still had his cell phone number – that she found an opportunity that stuck.
Each day, she makes the 90-minute commute to and from Franklin, including stops to drop off Kaimir in the afternoon and pick him up at night.
"Now that he's a little bit older, it's getting a little easier," she says.
With District leaders juggling a budget crisis, a bureaucratic restructuring, an academic reorganization, and a leadership transition, it's tough to tell exactly what the plan is to help more kids like Ayanna Roney make it to – and through – college.
In April, officials announced that 11 selective high schools across the city would collectively expand their enrollment by 1,700 students.
The policy could have made a difference for Jamel Haggins, who was accepted at prestigious Central High, but declined in favor of a scholarship offer from Roman Catholic High that fell through at the last minute.
It likely would not have helped less stellar students such as Lydell Boanes and Ayanna Roney.
"In the short term, what we can do to help kids is to get them into schools that will be the best places for them," said Naomi Houseman, the District's co-deputy chief in the Office of Counseling and Promotion Standards.
Long term, however, she acknowledges that the strategy might not be the best thing for the school system as a whole.
Plans to provide that kind of holistic support are murky, at best.
Officials say they have hopes that the academic reorganization just getting underway might lead to better-prepared 9th graders down the line – but details have been non-existent.
Principals are being granted more autonomy to figure out their own solutions – at the same time their budgets have been dramatically slashed.
The external funding that has been supporting the city's GEAR-UP programs and Student Success Centers could soon dry up.
In the meantime, then, it's more "high-performing seats."
Shorr dismisses out of hand any concerns that existing disparities among the District's high schools might get worse.
"I don't think we could be more stratified than we are right now," she says.
Back at Lehigh University, Jamel Haggins is getting anxious.
Alone inside a computer lab, he's preparing for a critique with his prickly architecture professor.
"It's always nerve-wracking," he says. "It seems like nothing is ever going to be good enough for him."
Appearances aside, it's not like his time at Lehigh has been a breeze, says Haggins.
On his first big exam, he scored 19 out of 100: "Chemistry just demolished me."
There was also dealing with the culture shock from being around White people his age for the first time: "I never had a class with one before college."
Even on the football field, he didn't know what he didn't know until he got to Lehigh:
"In high school, we didn't even have a playbook," says Haggins, incredulous.
For a while, always feeling like he was starting at the back of the race made him angry.
But Haggins, born to a teenage mother in a violent section of North Philly, has always had an uncanny knack for bouncing back quickly.
Even he's not sure how to explain it.
"You just have to let stuff go sometimes and keep moving forward," he finally offers.
As his architecture professor lays into him for being behind in his preparations for an upcoming presentation, Haggins does just that.
"I learned to convert it into a positive," he explains after class.
"I was like, 'OK, even though this dude is bashing my work, I'm going to take his criticism and apply it.'"
It's that kind of thing that makes his former principal shake his head and smile ruefully.
Students like Lydell Boanes and Ayanna Roney don't lack for talent or heart, says Christopher Johnson, but getting them through college often means everything needs to break just right.
"He [will] do well in whatever environment he's in," says Christopher Johnson.
"He's just that kind of kid."