Wegmans, which has become known as a hot spot in Prince George’s County, transformed part of its lounge in Lanham into a ballroom last week as it celebrated its Hillside Work Scholarship Connection, a program designed to reduce the high school dropout rate.
Behind black curtains were tables draped with lime-colored cloths, vases filled with fresh flowers and orchids at each place setting.
In the chiavari chairs were numerous officials, including U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D), U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation John D. Pocari, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, School Superintedent William R. Hite Jr., Prince George’s County Community College President Charlene Dukes and Wegmans’ chief executive officer Danny Wegman.
“Government can’t do it all, the public schools can’t do it all, but we can pool our resources,” Baker said of needing the business community to help address problems in the school system.
Sitting nearby were students who have either participated in the program or graduated from it. They included Jamarr Myers, who graduated with a master’s degree in 2010. Myers, who joined a gang after his father was killed, participated in the scholarship program in Rochester, N.Y., and now works as a management trainee at Wegmans in Prince George’s.
Without the program, Myers said he would either be “in jail or dead. That’s where I was headed.”
Howard Stone, a former member of the county school board, said Prince George’s is fortunate to have the only program operating outside of Wegmans’ headquarters of New York state.
Wegmans began Hillside Work Scholarship Connection in 1987 and launched a program in Prince George’s in 2008, with 30 students. The program is now operating in five middle and high schools in the county (Drew Freeman and G. James Gholson middle schools and Suitland, Fairmont Heights and Central high schools). More than 200 students now participate.
The program provides mentoring, job training, part-time work and academic support. Students are identified who show promise, but are in danger of dropping out of school. They are paired with a professional youth advocate through graduation and up to two years after they leave high school. Some students can also receive $1,500 a year for their four years in college.
“We have so many dropouts in ninth grade and this stops them from doing that,” said Stone, a member of the Prince George’s County advisory board. Hite and Dukes are also members of the board.