Students Welcome Shot At College Scholarships

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2007

Tamara Lee, a 16-year-old junior at Frank W. Ballou Senior High School in Southeast Washington, is nervous about continuing her education after she graduates. She'd be the first in her family to go to college.

That's a special role in any family, and also a potentially expensive one.

But Lee and more than 100 other Ballou juniors learned yesterday about a new program that will make it easier for some D.C. students to earn college degrees. During an assembly at Ballou, city leaders and education officials described the D.C. Achievers Scholarship, a $122 million program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that will award college scholarships to students at six high schools located east of the Anacostia River.

"It's a great opportunity," Lee said. "If I complete the application, I think I can do it."

The foundation will award the first round of scholarships this May to about 175 juniors. The D.C. College Success Foundation, a nonprofit group focused on getting poor students to college, will receive the grant and cooperate with D.C. College Access Program, or DC-CAP, the city's nonprofit college counseling program that will work directly with scholarship winners.

"This initiative will make obtaining a college degree a reality for thousands of D.C. students," said Herbert R. Tillery, president of the D.C. College Success Foundation. "A college degree is ticket to a good job and a better way of life."

DC-CAP will receive $10 million of the Gates award to help expand its services.

The new scholarship program has been in the planning stages for several years and comes after the October 2006 report "Double the Number for College Success." The study tracked a group of students who entered the ninth grade in the city's traditional and charter schools and found that only 9 percent of them finished college within five years.

Yesterday, Ballou students such as Delonte Gorman, 17, who is considering colleges such as Morehouse and Georgetown, said he was excited by the opportunity. "I will do everything in my power to apply and get picked," he said.

In the first year, officials will select 175 students from six high schools -- Anacostia, Ballou, Friendship Collegiate, H.D. Woodson, Maya Angelou-Evans and Thurgood Marshall Academy. The scholarships are $10,000 per year for up to five years.

Students at those schools whose family income is in the lowest third of D.C. family income levels, have family assets less than $50,000 and who have demonstrated potential are eligible to apply. The program does not require a minimum GPA, according to the application.

Students who are selected as semifinalists will participate in a D.C. College Success Foundation group activity in April, and the final selection will be made in May.

School board member William Lockridge, who represents Wards 7 and 8, told the students that they could become as powerful as the officials in suits seated on stage, a group that included Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, as long as they completed college.

"What you see on this stage right here is power," Lockridge said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company