Though I sometimes question my qualifications for this sort of thing, I volunteer as a mentor for a program that works with Atlanta Public School high schoolers. The program, called 21st Century Atlanta Scholars, requires that students endure a rigorous application process to the program itself, then endure the rigorous college application process itself, and finally, if they are admitted to and decide to attend one of the program’s “partner” universities, they get a full ride to college. Yep. A full ride. Partner universities include about a dozen schools, including Amherst, Bowdoin, Holy Cross, Middlebury and Wellesley.
I got involved with the program a year ago, after I spent some time grumping about how 18-year-old Abby would have liked a full ride to one of the “Little Ivies” and put on my big-girl pants.
21st Century Scholars is a relatively new program—their first class of high school seniors graduated from college this spring. It came about because a few teachers and administrators got together with Beverly Hall, superintendent for APS, to discuss the fact that their highest-performing and highest-potential students were not going any farther than Atlanta, maybe Athens. The program was created to help these students realize how widely varied their college options could be.
The kids aren’t limited just in terms of coming up with tuition – most of them have a lot more going on. They might have to take care of siblings while single parents work long hours. They might be juggling work and school themselves. They don’t generally have the resources to visit a campus. There are also often psychological issues at hand, both on the part of the parents and the students. College is kind of intimidating, frankly, without throwing in the fact that they could be going from a school full of black kids in the south to a school full of white kids in the north. They have to think of the academic pressures that will be present at Tufts that are just not there at Carver. These kids also may not all have the support of their parents, who picture their child going off to college and leaving them behind.