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Students Celebrate As College Dreams Come Step Closer

D.C. Achievers-to-be Patrice Arrington, 16, Brandon Crews, 17, and Latrice Arrington, 16, all from H.D. Woodson, celebrate their selection into the program. The inaugural class will have 201 students from six schools.
D.C. Achievers-to-be Patrice Arrington, 16, Brandon Crews, 17, and Latrice Arrington, 16, all from H.D. Woodson, celebrate their selection into the program. The inaugural class will have 201 students from six schools. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

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By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2007

The excitement was palpable during a ceremony at the Town Hall Education Arts & Recreation Campus in Ward 8 last week, as D.C. high school students walked across a stage, shook hands with then-Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and collected a certificate in acknowledgment of their accomplishments.

But it wasn't another June graduation celebrating the end of their high school careers. The event marked a beginning, honoring the 201 rising high school seniors selected as the inaugural class of D.C. Achievers, a yearlong college-readiness program that leads to a full college scholarship for students who successfully reach completion. D.C. Achievers is administered by the D.C. College Success Foundation, a nonprofit group that helps students get into college, and is funded by a $112 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The goal is to improve low high school and college graduation rates, particularly among students living in parts of Northeast and Southeast Washington.

According to a 2006 report, "Double the Numbers for College Success," within a span of five years, 66 percent of high school students in the neighborhoods that were studied fail to complete high school, and just one in 20 high school graduates earns a college degree.

The D.C. College Access Program, the city's largest nonprofit college counseling program, will also assist students in the program. Students were selected based on family income and a lengthy application that included four essays.

"I wasn't thinking about college before," said Kevin Jones, 17, as he clutched his certificate. He attends Maya Angelou-Evans and wants to study writing in college, perhaps on the West Coast.

"It's like a door opened and this is a first step to success," Jones said. "Now it's up to me."

The scholarship candidates were selected from a pool of 263 semifinalists from six traditional and charter high schools in Wards 7 and 8: Anacostia, Frank W. Ballou, Friendship Collegiate, H.D. Woodson, Maya Angelou-Evans and Thurgood Marshall Academy.

Officials said other high schools in Wards 7 and 8 that were not part of the program this year -- Cesar Chavez-Parkside, IDEA Academy and SEED -- might be included in future years, depending on funding and how successful the program is at the initial six sites.

In their senior year, students will take part in pre-college seminars, receive help with college applications and participate in activities to successfully complete the program.

Herbert Tillery, executive director of the D.C. College Success Foundation, said the excitement among this first class of students will spread among their peers. "Other students will want to know what this is all about," Tillery said, encouraging future students to apply.

"It's our commitment to ensure that these students are indeed successful," he said.

Deborah Montgomery of Southeast, 47, had trouble putting her feelings into words when asked to describe what it meant that her son Darrelle, 18, who attends Anacostia High School, could attend college without any financial burdens.

"There were no funds for college," Montgomery said. "This is all new."

At first, Davon Donaldson, 17, who attends Friendship Collegiate, said he wasn't even going to apply for the program. Then he talked it over with his family and realized it was a good thing. "I need this money," he said. "I can't afford to pay tuition on my own."

The program will begin later this month with students taking part in a pre-college summer program for three nights at American University.


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