Program helps students chart course to college
Evanston senior Eric Smith (left) talks to Steve Newman, executive director of the Evanston Scholars program which helps underserved Evanston Township High School students gain greater college access and success, after school at ETHS on Wednesday, Dec. 5. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
What is it? Evanston Scholars is non-profit organization that seeks to improve college access and success for a diverse groupof ambitious underserved Evanston students.
The program offers workshops, mentors, college coaches and a $1,500 scholarship to students lacking financial, academic, family and/or community resources.
Why the program was started? A graduate of a four-year college will make almost $1.2 million more than a high school graduate over a lifetime, advocates say.
Further, a recent national study stated that 34 percent of low-income students attend college as compared to 83 percent of students from high income families.
Who does the program serve? ETHS juniors with strong character and academic ambition; students in the academic middle; major of students from underserved populations, lacking financial, academic, family and/or community resources.
How to help? Visit the Evanston Scholars page, at evanstonscholars.org
Updated: January 21, 2013 2:15PM
EVANSTON — The trip in a rented van took approximately three hours.
Eric Smith, a senior at Evanston Township High School, caught his first sight of Augustana College as the college swept into view off of Interstate 80.
Already fall, the college had “a very homey look,’’ he recalled. “All the leaves were down. A lot of squirrels were running around. It just seemed like a calm, quiet, liberal arts college.”
The college ranks as one of Smith’s top picks as he contemplates what college he will attend next fall.
Smith might never have known of Augustana, nor Knox College, his top choice, and another small, highly regarded private institution, had he not participated in the Evanston Scholars program.
For a number of his peers, it’s either “Oakton, go into the Army,” he said.
ETHS teacher Steve Newman founded Evanston Scholars nearly two years ago in March 2011. The non-profit organization seeks to improve college access and success for a diverse group of ambitious underserved Evanston students.
Students admitted into the program can participate in workshops – which include parent orientation – how to write a good application essay and do well in the application process.
The program also provides a much-needed financial rundown.
From the program, Smith said he learned to write his essays “with more focus.” As for the support provided, ‘it’s almost like a family,” he said.
Newman, who teaches English to juniors and seniors, said he founded the program based on his own experiences with students.
“I would see kids kind of floundering through the whole application process,” he said. Some would ask him for advice on the process between class periods, “but it really wasn’t sufficient,” he said.
Newman said he started poking around to find help and learned about the Chicago Scholars program, which became a model for the Evanston program. Gary Caplan, one of the program’s founders, now serves on Evanston Scholars board of directors.
Students from first generation families who never had a child in college – are a special focus.
A number of Evanston groups, including YOU (Youth Organization Umbrella), the McGaw YMCA, and churches have given the fast-growing program backing.
The Evanston Community Foundation gave the fledgling program a Root2Fruit grant, providing an important boost to the organization.
The program now has a program director, Nancy Baker, a development director, Kay Israelite, and a board of directors.
Many of the resources came together at “On Site,” a conference held on the University of Illinois Chicago campus, which drew some 500 students and 70 colleges.
Evanston Scholars members rode to the program in style, leaving before sunrise in a free bus donated by Best Taxi Cab owner Sam McKinley Jr. and underwritten by businessman Hecky Powell, said Newman.
From the moment the group entered the UIC Forum, “good things started happening,” the upbeat Newman wrote in a dispatch filed the next day about the scholars experience.
Colleges commented “what a polished and informed group we were. We heard: “they really ask well-researched questions,” “what impressive essays,” and “we thought they were a group of young counselors, they were so dressed so well.”
Nikkole Wade had already gotten into some of the schools she met with at the conference. With one, Illinois State, though, she learned additional information.
The Illinois State representative slipped her a folder embossed with an image of the school’s red bird.
“He said read the first paragraph.”
The letter informed her that she had been admitted to the school’s athletic training program. “I didn’t know that when they admitted me on line,” an excited Wade said.
The Scholars program also attempts to widen student’s focus, said Newman. For instance, many students aren’t aware of schools like Augustana and Knox, with which the program has forged connections, or think they’ll be financially prohibitive.
Yet many of the schools have much higher retention rates than those students are typically drawn to, he said.
As for finances, with help a student like Smith could end up paying $5,000 a year rather than the full price of $40,000, or about the cost of a community college.
“Kids don’t know that,” the determined teacher said.
To learn more about the program or to donate, visit www.evanstonscholars.org