One of the foundations of America is that anybody has the opportunity to get a higher education if they want it enough.
In Montgomery County, one way this opportunity is made possible is through College Promise, a program that helps students from low-income families succeed in high school and makes college affordable for them.
Created by John N. Taylor in 2010 after observing a similar program in Florida, College Promise established a mission to help up to 500 students over a 10-year period. Last year, the program selected its first group, 55 eighth-graders, to begin the program this school year. They meet with mentors from around the county every week until high school graduation.
How it works
“Students in the 8th grade apply between Sept. 15 and Nov. 15,” said program director and former Centerville City Schools Superintendent Gary Smiga. The goal is to select about 50 students per year.
Entrance into the program is based on financial need and merit. To be eligible, students must come from a family whose income qualifies the student for the free-and-reduced lunch program. After this, students are chosen based on their academic promise. “In addition to the family income level, we look at such things as grades, attendance, test scores, and involvement,” said Smiga.
The students selected have to pledge to be drug and alcohol free, crime free, practice good citizenship, keep good attendance and the required GPA, and meet weekly with their mentors. Parents must pledge to provide a supportive home environment, keep good relations with the College Promise staff, and attend open house and parent/teacher conferences at their child’s school.
At completion of the program, students will receive a scholarship to Sinclair Community College. After completing their two-year degree, students can receive a scholarship to continue at Wright State University or other participating four-year colleges.
Mentors provide ‘invaluable’ relationship
Mentors meet on a weekly basis with their mentees for 40 to 60 minutes during school hours. The mentors range from people in their 20s to those in their 80s. “They come from all walks of life, currently employed, retirees, etc.,” Smiga said. “The mentors can work for the school district, and some of our current 42 mentors include a superintendent, school administrators and counselors.”
Lori Simms, a Kettering Board of Education member, is a mentor. “We talk about current school work, goals for the future, colleges to attend, and what is going on this weekend,” she said.
Simms says she decided to become a mentor because she has personally benefited from formal and informal mentors. “The personal relationship with someone other than a teacher or parent can be invaluable,” she said.
According to Career Beginnings, a program in California similar to College Promise, 59 percent of mentored youth improve their grades. Procter and Gamble says 86 percent of mentored youth go on to higher education.
Though the mentors are volunteers, programs like College Promise still need money. Part of the funding for participants is offered in scholarships from Sinclair, Wright State, Denison University and Kettering College of Medical Arts. Students also receive money through grants they qualify for, such as Grants in Aid or Pell Grants. Finally, College Promise gets money for students through fundraising efforts.
“These funds will make the dream of attending college at little to no cost a reality for 500 students over a 10-year period,” Smiga said.
Fairmont students participate
Of the 55 students picked for the second year of the program (Class of 2016), nine came from Kettering schools: five from Van Buren and four from Kettering Middle School. There are currently six students at Fairmont who are finishing their first year in the program. One is freshman Tristan Carl.
Carl is in all the honors classes available to him while also having room for Philharmonic Orchestra, Latin I, Health and Intro to Engineering I. He meets with his mentor every Wednesday during lunch.
“He talks to me about my future,” Carl said. “It’s nice talking to someone without having any real assignments.” Carl is managing to keep straight A’s through his tough schedule, keeping his sights on the future.
College Promise gives hope to students who otherwise would struggle to pay for their college education. It gives them the opportunity to get the skills required for many high-salary jobs, allowing the students to set themselves and their families up for success in the future.
For more information on College Promise, click HERE.