by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – Preparing for college and a career is often daunting for any young person. For too many teens in Missouri, though, college is just a fantasy that will never be realized.
Even high-achieving students from low-income areas often see higher education as being out of reach. That’s a personal tragedy for the student involved but it’s also possibly robbing the rest of the state – and nation – of a future leader in medicine, business, philanthropy or education.
A private scholarship program that is open to Missourians is taking a different approach by working with students as young as junior high school. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation provides a wide range of assistance that includes funds and mentoring.
“When low-income students, even if they are high achieving, they don’t typically get the best advice or have the best resources to prepare them for the nation’s top colleges, so we want to start working with students at a young age.”
She adds that it’s crucial to identify top-performers early and give them access to academic support.
“There’s always an assumption that really smart kids will be fine on their own and that they don’t need the support that kids that maybe struggle academically in school need. That’s simply not true. We funded research a few years ago that shows that students who are high achieving earlier in school, if they don’t get that kind of support that they need throughout middle school and high school, will eventually drop out of that top quarter and often times don’t go to college.”
Every year, about 1,000 applications from seventh grade students are made for the Young Scholars Program. About 60 are selected every year. The Foundation says the average annual family income for the students who are selected is $25,000.
Froimson believes there’s an impact on more than just the student who gets a scholarship.
“We’re supporting students in communities that can be leaders, that can give back to their communities. We’re also providing role models so there’s a lot of things that this kind of support can do even if we’re only able to help 60 or 70 students a year.”
One Foundation scholar from Missouri says that changed her perspective on what she can do. Stephanie Anderson is from the St. Louis area and is about to begin her college career at the University of Chicago. She plans to study medicine.
“For me, personally, before I got the scholarship that I have with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, I never would have thought of going to a private school for high school. I got it in seventh grade so, before that, I just thought I was going to go to a local public school. I never really knew there were so many different opportunities in the world.”
Froimson says the education plans are customized to the needs of the student. That may mean getting them into a private high school but it could incorporate their local public school.
“The nation’s best talent can go to waste if these students are not challenged and if they are not aware of the opportunities that are available to them.”
The Foundation’s website says the purpose of the program is to “…supporting students who defy their economic circumstances and perform at the highest academic levels.”
In addition to providing funds to send Stephanie to a private academy, the Foundation also sent her to summer programs during her high school years. That included one at Georgetown University where she met other high-achieving students from around the nation and she learned from national political leaders.
She encourages other young people in Missouri to get to work now when it comes to finding help for college.
“Definitely, research for resources and find your resources for things that can help you because nothing is ever impossible. You can go to a community college or go to a four year university, whichever one you prefer, and really price shouldn’t be a factor because there are so many different resources and scholarships to help you get through that.”
For Stephanie, those resources include expert advice on planning her educational journey. Froimson says it’s important to include more support for promising young people than just the money for college.
“We have educational advisors that each work with a relatively small caseload of students from around the United States. They’ll come out and meet with the families and build a nice team, working with the families and the schools.”
That team could work together for nearly a decade, as the Foundation also provides scholarship programs and advising support for undergraduate and graduate college programs as well. One of the programs involves transfers from community colleges into four-year universities. The common thread is that all the students selected for the programs are academically high-achieving.
Froimson says the students also have another trait in common.
“We also want students who have grit and determination and show signs of interest in things outside of school. We want students who will want to explore beyond just the books and the classroom.”
About 650 students nationwide are currently part of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s scholarship programs.
The next round of applications for the Young Scholars Program opens up in January.
On the web:
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation: http://www.jkcf.org/