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12 D.C. Seniors Receive 'Posse' Scholarships

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page DZ03

Twelve D.C. high school seniors have won full-tuition scholarships to Bucknell University and Grinnell College as part of a program in which colleges admit students in groups so they will have friends to help them manage the stresses of higher education.

The D.C. teenagers are among the first 20 students in the Washington area to receive Posse Foundation scholarships.

Seven of them -- Sabrina Bardonille of the Friendship Edison Collegiate Academy, Kai Hill of Cardozo High School, Molly McArdle of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and Courtney Moore, Neo Morake, Nkemdirim Offor and Alexis Vigil of Banneker Academic High School -- have been accepted by Grinnell, in Grinnell, Iowa.

The five other students -- Odinakachi Anyanwu of the Marriott Hospitality Public Charter High School, Nancy Lee of Dunbar High School, Valeria Lopez of Wilson High School, Loretta Miller of Eastern High School and Nicole Williams of Banneker -- have been accepted by Bucknell, in Lewisburg, Pa.

The Bucknell group, or posse, also includes three students from Prince George's County, one from Anne Arundel County and one from Fairfax County. The Grinnell group has one student from Anne Arundel and two from private schools in Montgomery County.

The two 10-student groups plan to meet weekly until August with Posse staff members, getting to know one another and learning together how to handle college. The weekly meetings will continue after they arrive on their campuses.

The colleges will provide support for room and board, in addition to tuition, for those scholarship winners who need it.

The program already has 753 students from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston on 19 U.S. campuses. An additional 270, including the 20 students from the Washington area, will begin their freshman year next summer, when the number of participating colleges will grow to 23.

The program looks for students whose grades and scores might not be as good as those of young people who usually attend selective colleges, but who have personal qualities the participating colleges desire. "We look for students who demonstrate exemplary leadership, academic promise, an ability to work well in groups and a strong desire to attend a top-tier university program," said Marcy Mistrett, director of Posse D.C.

High school counselors and community counselors in the Washington area nominated 633 students for the program. Four hundred showed up for meetings that featured leadership and group-work exercises. Two hundred were then selected for interviews, and the two colleges and Posse picked the winners from 40 finalists.

"They are outstanding leaders and are sure to be academically successful and to contribute to both campuses' high-achieving student bodies," Mistrett said. "We look forward to four years from now, when we are again congratulating these 20 scholars . . . as they walk across their campus's stage to receive their bachelor's degrees."

Parents often worry about whether their children can get into a good college, but a greater problem for many students is graduating once they get in. Only 55 percent of Americans who start college manage to get degrees in six years. For students with backgrounds like the ones most of the Posse participants have, the figure is much lower: Fewer than half, or 41 percent of Hispanic and 41 percent of African American students, complete college. More than 90 percent of Posse students so far have graduated in six years or less time.

Deborah Bial, founder and president of the Posse Foundation, was a 23-year-old English literature graduate working at a youth program in New York City when she met several promising young people who had left college short of graduation. One said to her, "I'd never have dropped out if I had my posse."

Since then she has been raising money, including a $1 million grant from the Sallie Mae Fund for the Washington area program, to make that happen.

Posse officials said this year's high school juniors should ask their counselors about the program, which plans to hold orientation meetings next spring.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company