Opinion

Op-Ed: District of Columbia student achievers poised for success

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Opinion,Op-Eds

Just before Spring Break, I was privileged to recognize the success of 111 young scholars from Friendship Collegiate Academy in earning Achievers scholarships, which help promising District of Columbia students from low-income families pay for college.

The sought-after scholarships -- funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and administered by the nonprofit College Success Foundation of the District of Columbia -- provide as much as $55,000 toward the cost of college. The scholarships also provide mentoring, counseling and other forms of support during their senior year, and throughout college.

In addition to this college scholarship success, we were able to announce a new partnership with Hanover College in Indiana. DC Achievers Scholars who are accepted there will now receive a full-tuition scholarship; grant and work-study funding valued at an estimated $100,000 annually for four years; and student and staff mentorship.

At the D.C. public charter high school which my organization founded, we take college preparation -- and college graduation -- very seriously. Some 74 percent of our students are eligible for federal school lunch subsidies. In total, our students have earned nearly $40 million in college scholarships.

The scholarship students we celebrated this week raise the total number of DC Achievers Scholars to 614 from our school of nearly 1,700 issued by the College Success Foundation in D.C. since 2007.

With our partnership with District of Columbia Public Schools at Anacostia, Friendship was responsible for nearly half of the students to earn DC Achievers Scholarships this year.

Students also have earned 24 Posse scholarships for strong academic students from low-income families; and three Gates Millennium Scholarships, which pays a full ride through an undergraduate and a postgraduate degree.

These scholarships have enabled our students to attend Columbia, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, Morehouse College, Georgetown, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Bucknell, Hanover College and University of Maryland, among many others.

Coupled with the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grants, which provide city students up to $10,000 toward the cost of tuition at out-of-state public colleges, the scholarships make college possible for our students.

Unusually for a DC public charter school, Collegiate Academy, located on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast D.C.'s Ward 7, has a 60-percent male student enrollment and graduates nearly 250 students each year.

Our on-time -- within four years -- high-school graduation rate is 91 percent. To place that in perspective, that is 35 percentage points higher than D.C. Public Schools, and 14 points higher than the D.C. charter high school average.

Fully 100 percent of our graduating class is accepted to college. In fact, with Friendship's partnership with DCPS at Anacostia, Friendship graduates 43 percent of the on-time high-school graduates in D.C.'s most neglected wards, 7 and 8.

Critical to getting our often vulnerable and at-risk youth to graduate college is the provision of educational opportunities and supports that are typically available in suburban public, private, magnet and academically selective schools, or at home, and that are often absent in urban areas.

In that spirit, we pioneered Early College in the District, whereby students can take college-level courses and earn up to two years of college credit. We accomplish this through a relentless focus on coursework and character attributes necessary to succeed at college, often with our partners at the University of Maryland.

We also offer high school students, at increasingly early ages, Advanced Placement courses. More academically rigorous than regular high school classes, these are critical to developing the skills necessary for success at college. More than 2,500 students have taken these classes since we first offered them in 2006.

The future success of the neighborhoods where our students live depends upon their return as college graduates who contribute to their communities. Our latest scholarship winners mean that more college graduates are on the way to change D.C. -- one student at a time.

CORRECTION: Hanover College is in Indiana. Its location was incorrect in the original version of this op-ed. The Washington Examiner regrets the error.

Donald L. Hense is chairman and founder of Friendship Public Charter School in the District of Columbia.

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