Programs nationwide are preparing low-income students for college as early as middle school
By Arlene V. Edmonds
|Two-hundred students participate in the high school portion of the Sponsor-A-Scholar Program. Another 250 are currently pursuing post-secondary education.
For African American students to succeed, college preparation must begin by the time one becomes a high school freshman. So, as 2012 opened, Philadelphia Futures Sponsor-A-Scholar program is ensuring that African American youngsters are not only prepared to go to college but also earn their undergraduate degree. On a national level, Congressman Chaka Fattah’s (D-PA) brainchild GEAR UP is also doing the same thing, but this initiative is grooming pupils starting in middle school and providing services through the college years.
Philadelphia Futures drew 500 students to their January conference while GEAR UP is planning a year of pep rallies, workshops and tutoring all culminating with their annual conference. Both programs are expanding this year. Philadelphia Futures have merged with the White-Williams Scholars to provide more mentoring and tutorial services for students starting in 9th grade and then providing full scholarships with stipends and continued mentoring and tutoring until their college commencement. GEAR UP service will now filter $4 billion to 12 million students in 49 states, Washington, D. C. and the American territories. It too provides tuition dollars to low-income students for college.
Azizeh Mubslat, a student at Arcadia University in suburban Philadelphia, was among those who attended Philadelphia Futures January conference. Mubslat credited the program with allowing her to be the first person in her family to get a higher education. She was quick to point out that not only does the initiative provide tuition dollars but she received the tutoring and mentoring she needed from high school through college.
“I first became active in the program in ninth grade,” said Mubslat, who plans to earn her bachelor’s degree in 2014. “I really needed help in math. So I was able to get the help I needed. Then in 10th and 11th grades I got my mentor. I was really walked through the whole college application process from financial aid forms, to getting an internship. I would not be doing well in my second year without this program since, like most of the students in the program. I am the first one in my family to go to college.”
For parent Sandra Attaway the Philadelphia Futures program is a godsend. Her son, Shane Harris, is a sophomore at Northeast High School in Philadelphia and has his sights set on higher education. Before becoming involved in the program, Attaway readily admitted she never encouraged him to consider college.
“I just knew I didn’t have the means to send him to college,” said Attaway. “I thought he’d go to school, graduate and get a job. Now that he’s in the program he is so motivated that it caused me to want to get involved in his education. I always supported my son but with this strong desire to go to college I have to be involved.”
Attaway was able to attend a workshop at the conference that particularly targeted parents. She said that she learned new ways to help her son. She added that she appreciated that the program reinforced values like responsibility and being accountable for one’s actions. “As a single mother having a male mentor helps my son,” she said.
For Harris, a whole new world has opened up since being in the program. He said though he is uncertain of what he wants to major in when he begins college he is sure that he will be successful. He stressed that Philadelphia Futures gives him the opportunity to explore the possibility of pursuing careers ranging from engineering to entrepreneurship.
“I attended a workshop today on making decision,” said Harris. “It is so important to make informed choices. The (facilitator) told use how he started a business when he was seven years old and kept working from there. I learned so much about life.”
Like, Philadelphia Futures, GEAR UP assists students who may not have originally considered higher education an option. That was the Case for 14-year old William Hammond, a student at Frankford High School in Philadelphia. He was in danger of failing middle school when a counselor recommended him for the program.
“Before GEAR Up my son was always getting suspended and acting up at school,” admitted Christina Hammond. “He didn’t even want to do his school work and had not interest in education. After GEAR UP, my son actually changed. During this past year it was the first time he never got suspended. I think it was because Mrs. Wright (his mentor) showed him that he had options.”
GEAR UP is transforming the lives of children all across the country. In Puerto Rico, GEAR UP has students creating “Dream Walls” writing about their goals in higher education. At Laramie County Community College in Wyoming and several schools in Southern California students wrote thank-you letters to Congress outlining the personal benefits of the program.
“President Obama has issued the clarion call for every young American to pursue higher education and training, both for personal achievement and to help our nation win the future,” said Fattah. “GEAR UP is an important part of that effort. The program demystifies college and portrays the college dream as a real possibility. It’s been my honor and pleasure to meet GEAR UP and other scholarship program success stories wherever I go.”
For those who are students in School District of Philadelphia schools, Philadelphia Futures and the White-Williams Scholar programs are still accepting applications for 9th graders to get involved in the program. Those students who will be graduating high school in 2015 and college in 2019 will receive mentoring, scholarships and other incentives. For more information about becoming a Philadelphia Futures scholar visit philadelphiafutures.org or follow the group on Twitter at http://twitter.com/phillyfutures.
GEAR UP is an acronym for the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. It was first introduced as a pilot program in Philadelphia after it was signed into law under the Clinton administration in 1998. Since then the program has partnered with the U. S. Department of Education, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the nonprofit National Council for Community and Education Partnerships to expand the program. For more information visit www2.ed.gov/gearup.
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Arlene V. Edmonds has been a Philadelphia-based freelance writer for over 20 years. She is also an adjunct English professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
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