Small steps with big results for high school students considering college
ETE alumnus encourages students to pursue higher education
Consider the following high school student – Imani Williams, a junior, works hard, gets good grades and participates in a number of extracurricular activities. The next logical step would be to start searching for a college to attend after graduation.
But for students in lower income neighborhoods, this isn’t necessarily the case — and the impediment isn’t always financial. Many of these kids don’t feel qualified to go to college. The application process is difficult, there’s sometimes little encouragement from their family, they are concerned about fitting in on campus and they don’t realize the opportunities higher education can offer them.
When Edward Small, a University of Delaware alumnus who graduated in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary teacher education, became a principal at Academy Park High School outside of Philadelphia, he realized many of his students were missing that “thing” that would motivate them to continue their education.
“Sure, kids wanted to pass the tests and please their parents, but they often couldn’t visualize the benefits their hard work could bring,” said Small. “It’s the difference between just being motivated to get an A versus getting an A because you want to go to medical school and become a doctor.”
In 2010, Small developed a program called Rising Scholars to help his students envision a better future. The first year, 80 students enrolled, attending classes every other Saturday to learn about decision-making, leadership, state test preparation, SAT preparation, applying to college and college life.
“Our students often juggle their academics with jobs and family responsibilities so not all students participate each time. But getting 80 high school students to wake up early every other Saturday and come to school was an amazing feat in itself,” said Small.
While the Saturday program addressed half the issue, Small knew there was a second obstacle — how could he convince these first generation students that they really could fit in at college?
This summer, as he has done for the past three years, Small brought his Rising Scholars to UD to experience the life of a college student. From Aug. 1-5, 57 students stayed in the Independence complex, attended classes taught by their high school teachers and college professors and participated in team-building and social activities, to develop a better understanding of the academic, social and career opportunities within their grasp.
The program has made a remarkable difference in the lives of these students. Over the past three years, 250 students have participated in Rising Scholars, with all the graduating seniors going on to college. One student, Verna Brown, who graduated this spring, is now a freshman computer engineering major at UD.
“I was already thinking about attending college — I just didn’t know all the steps to take,” said Brown. “The Rising Scholars program filled in the gaps. During my visit to UD, I fell in love with the ambiance and how the staff interacted with students. I saw that the students are surrounded by people who genuinely care about their future. From that experience, I was encouraged to look into UD’s academic programs and ultimately applied here.”
Small is encouraged by the growing power of the program. “We have over a hundred students acting as examples for others at Academy Park,” he said. “Rising Scholars are role models. They have a saying in the group, ’Once a Rising Scholar, always a Rising Scholar.’”
Keyon Crum, a sophomore at Lock Haven (Pa.) University, came back to help Small with the UD campus visit in August. He couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he talked about his first year as a psychology major. “It was amazing,” he said. “I am looking toward doing research as an undergrad and already thinking about grad school.”
Article by Christina Mason Johnston
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
This article appeared in UDaily on Sept. 20, 2013.