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“When I first came to Chavez, math was one of my top struggles. I wasn’t quite sure if I’d ever make it to the next grade level when it came to math. However, RISE-DC tutors helped me to understand math on a broader level, and I will be graduating in June and attending my dream college.”

Brianne, a Chavez student who graduated in 2011

Latest News from RISE-DC

College Funding Reaches a Critical Stage in D.C.

It’s not a newsflash that college costs have spiraled out of control. Many colleges expect students or parents to borrow huge amounts of money to finance their education. For RISE’s low-income students, funding for college has been manageable recently but may reach a crisis state before long.

Pell Grants are still worth less than $6,000 per year for RISE’s students. Isolated scholarships are available, but they are usually just a few thousand dollars each and only available to students with high GPA’s or test scores. About fifteen years ago the DC CollegeSuccess Foundation was launched to help students in Wards 7 and 8 pay for college. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) had audited the population in Wards 7 and 8 and found that, on average, only 3% of each public school graduating class was finishing college. Funded largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the “Double the Numbers” Initiative of the DC College Success Foundation has had the intention of doubling the number of students graduating from college.

The initiative has largely succeeded, although RISE believes the numbers could be much higher still. I write more about this here. The game changer for low-income students was the DC Achievers Scholarship program run by the DC College Success Foundation. The program is open to high school students in Wards 7 and 8 and has provided approximately $10,000 in grant money for each year of college for approximately sixty students at each of six high schools for the last ten years. With the DC TAG program also available, enabling D.C. students to essentially get the in-state tuition rate at any public university in the country, college became eminently affordable to the lucky recipients.

The Achievers program, however, is ending. Ward 7 and Ward 8 students now face a specter of the near impossibility of funding for four-year college other than the local and much maligned University of the District of Columbia, whose struggles were the impetus for DC TAG. As of yet, neither OSSE nor District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) have yet to announce any measure for the Classes of 2018 and beyond.

The DC Council had floated the idea of a $70,000 scholarship program for students, but that bill stalled. Any college scholarship program administrator will tell you it is incredibly expensive to run and maintain such a program. Not only do the scholarships need to be dispensed, but students need training for college, help with logistics, and counseling.
RISE’s College Prep program helps students with academic preparation, college choices, logistics with financial aid paperwork and enrollment, and college visits. But RISE cannot bridge the looming funding gap that threatens to return Ward 7 and 8 students back to a distinct disadvantage in college admissions.

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Volunteer Spotlight

In Paul's previous life, he taught math and coached tennis for nine years at the Edmund Burke School. In the class of 1987 was a gifted student-athlete, Andrew Prevost, pictured above. Andrew was instrumental in bringing Burke its first soccer and tennis championships in school history. Andrew and I kept in touch over the years, but we lived separate lives for the most part, Andrew starting a family and developing his career, and I in Anacostia. Since the summer, however, Andrew has been an incredibly dedicated college mentor to one of our members of the class of 2017. Andrew has also recruited his fellow employees at the Meltzer Group to help with the mentoring program.

Andrew remarks, “Getting back to my roots in DC and connecting with RISE has been a blessing. I'm reminded every day how lucky I am. Working with my student has been a gift for me. As we all get older and wiser, the wants and needs of material life tend to take a back seat to helping. RISE is doing incredible work; I'm just a small piece of the puzzle and fortunate enough to help.”

Focus on Ballou

For about a year, RISE has been getting to know the fine teachers and administrators at Ballou High School . Last school year we worked with students who had failed the ninth grade, some more than once.

Many of those have ascended to eleventh grade and are on track to graduate on time, but others are now enrolled in Ballou's "STAY" program, which works with over-age and under-credited students. Wherever these students are, RISE pledges to help them as much as possible, whether it is with tutoring, mentoring, or counseling toward post-secondary success.

Pictured with me is Dr. Wilbert Miller, counselor at Ballou STAY, meeting over the break to discuss strategy. Most of the Ballou STAY population is itinerant; the students need to move frequently due to circumstance that are beyond their control. RISE and Ballou STAY will be collaborating on targeted grant applications in the years to come, focusing on strategies Ballou STAY is enacting to improve academic performance and attendance. This collaboration fits perfectly into RISE's strengths and mission.

Senior Spotlight

Sierra has been with RISE since the summer of 2014, when, at the recommendation of many of her peers, she joined the CollegePrep program. In some ways she has been the “can’t miss” kid, number one in her class of 2016 and a superb dancer. How might RISE help, you may ask? Her college mentor, Ashley Nguyen, has been helping Sierra assimilate the myriad of offers and conflicting advice she is getting from coaches, teachers, and counselors. Ashley can give a disinterested voice and be a sounding board for Sierra as she figures out where to go next year.

Sierra says RISE has helped her prepare for the SAT and shown her a great variety of college options through our trips to campuses. She appreciates all the help and plans to help RISE someday after she graduates and comes back to the community.

Washing Away the Blood

Candlelight vigil

Washing Away the Blood

As thoughts of domestic terrorism and police violence intrude on those in “safer” communities, we always need to be reminded that the specter of violence has always lurked in the communities RISE has served since 2003. Five students in our programs have lost their lives to gun violence; I mention three of them in posts here, here, and here.

For several years I have been mentoring two seniors at Anacostia High who are victims. One student first lost his father, then his stepfather, to gunshots. The other young man recently witnessed a murder outside his apartment building the night before I was to pick him up for pizza--a murder, incidentally, that was not reported in the local news. When I arrived at the apartment complex at noon the next day, I was blocked by fire trucks which were washing away the blood of the victim who had lain on the ground for hours.

Amazingly, and no doubt thanks to supporters of RISE, these young men have positive outlooks and are headed for college. They could not be more different. One has a reading disability but has been lifted up by the WordSTARS program, and the other is a young man with incredible gifts: A MATHlete in our CollegePrep program, he is captain of his basketball team and will be choosing from top ten historically black colleges. Would our second young man be on the road to success without RISE? I’m not sure. On Christmas Day he called us “lifesavers” in a text message to me.

Our country may becoming more fearful and less optimistic, but supporters of RISE should take solace that RISE’s work results in more and more young people confident in their futures and with better outcomes after high school.

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