Hundreds of D.C. youths who attend school in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods will receive a boost of academic and financial support for their college ambitions, thanks to a multimillion-dollar investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The $10 million grant, awarded to the D.C. College Access Program and set to be announced Monday, will enhance existing programming at eight Southeast D.C. schools, where the majority of students come from low-income households.
DC-CAP, a nonprofit organization, has helped District high school students get into college for nearly two decades. With the new funding, DC-CAP will expand its reach to middle school students for the first time by partnering with College Success Foundation — District of Columbia, a nonprofit organization already active in the participating schools, officials said.
The Gates Foundation grant also will be used to award college scholarships to students who live in Southeast Washington. With additional contributions of $1 million from Monumental Sports & Entertainment and $7 million from DC-CAP's own private funds, the new Ward 7 & 8 Scholarship Fund will provide eligible students up to $25,000 in financial support for their higher-education goals.
"If the cost of college is more than your annual income, it's a very scary proposition," said Argelia Rodriguez, president and chief executive of DC-CAP. "The earlier we instill in both students and parents that this is possible and that we're going to give you the support, the better."
Officials said 600 students will be selected to participate in the program. During the school year, the students will meet regularly with advisers to discuss their college and career goals. Program participants must also attend Saturday sessions throughout the year and a six-week summer academy, where they will receive extra support in math and English language arts and preparation for college entrance exams.
To be eligible, students must live in Ward 7 or Ward 8, where 40 percent and 50 percent, respectively, of children live in poverty, compared with 27 percent for the District as a whole, according to data collected by D.C. Action for Children.
While DC-CAP will continue serving public and public charter high school students citywide, Southeast students participating in the new program will be able to qualify for annual college scholarships of up to $5,000 — more than double the amount DC-CAP provides to students elsewhere in the District.
"We have kids all over the city that are financially challenged," Rodriguez said. But for those living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, "long-term support is vital."
Students and families from Wards 7 and 8 gathered Sunday for lunch to hear about the new grant and the program that will help them get into and succeed in college.
Larry Jones, 17, a senior at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School in Ward 8, has taken SAT prep classes and worked with an adviser through the College Success Foundation. He plans to continue working with his adviser under the new program.
Jones's CSF experience started with a three-week trip to Central America, his first time outside the Washington area. He said the trip made him "want to help my people and focus on . . . my community in any way I can."
His mother, Lawan Jones, said her son came back from abroad "with a deeper awareness and gratitude of how things are in different countries, and that's never left him." She said she hopes that will allow him to "reach back and help someone else to have those same opportunities."
Lawan Jones, a single mother who completed her college degree after having her son, said she was "pleased to see that he could have it a little easier from the start and that there are opportunities and organizations that will help him."
Larry Jones, who hopes to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta next fall, said the programs are why he has succeeded in high school and plans to go to college.
"This program is actually helping kids get out of poverty," he said. "No one wants to see us succeed, but we can do it if we put our mind to it."
Students at Hart and Kramer middle schools will be eligible to participate in the program, as well as students who attend the largest public and public charter schools east of the Anacostia River: Anacostia High School, Ballou High School, H.D. Woodson High School, Maya Angelou Public Charter School, Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School and Thurgood Marshall.