By Denise Clay
ABOVE PHOTO: The Philadelphia Education Fund has helped local scholars, (from left) Shanee Garner, Daryl Davis and Xavier Brown begin to achieve their lifetime goals by making college a reality, without the financial obstacles.
Photos by Robert Mendelsohn
In its 25 years of existence, the Philadelphia Education Fund has helped a lot of students become the kind of success stories that aren’t always heard when the city’s schools are discussed.
And then, there’s the story of Xavier Brown of West Philadelphia. Brown is one of five Gates Millennium Scholars in the City of Philadelphia. Of the five Millennium scholars, he is the only male. There are only 1,000 Millennium Scholars across the country.
As a student at Southwest Philadelphia’s Paul Robeson High School, Brown, 18, knew that without a college education, his chances of being successful would be much harder.
But although he was smart and wanted to go to college, he needed a little help focusing, Brown admits. That’s where the College Access Program came in. The College Access Program is offered in 17 Philadelphia high schools, four middle schools and three community-based sites, said Jennifer Trachtman, director of development and marketing for the Philadelphia Education Fund.
The program helps students who have untapped academic potential make the most of it and the opportunities connected to it, something that Brown really appreciated.
“[My College Access Program coordinator] helped me through a lot of things like applications and grades,” he said. “She really inspired me and helped me get to where I am today. She was interested in me and what was in my best interest.”
Because the coordinator knew that getting into college is only half the battle—-paying for it is the other half—–she suggested that Brown apply for the Gates Foundation Millennium Scholarship. This scholarship gives students the chance to go to college, graduate school, and even professional school without having to ever say the phrase “student loan”. It’s not the easiest scholarship to win—-you have to write a 27-page essay as part of the application process—–but you become part of a very select group of students should you win it.
He applied for it because he knew it would help him keep a promise to his mother if he won, said Brown, who is now a freshman (and starting point guard on the varsity basketball team) for Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa.
“I promised my mom that she wouldn’t have to pay for me to go to college,” he said. “When the package [for the Gates Millennium Scholarship] came, I got my mom to open it. She fell on the floor crying.”
Helping students who want to go to college but might not know it yet find happy endings like Brown’s is the mission of the Philadelphia Education Fund. The fund began its work 25 years ago as a means of getting the percentage of Philadelphia’s high school students who went to college up, said Carol Fixman, the Fund’s executive director.
The Fund also acknowledges community leaders who personify the region’s educational success stories through its annual EDDY Awards. The award ceremony, which was held last Tuesday at Drexel University, honored Grammy-winner and creator of the Sound of Philadelphia Kenny Gamble, Helen Cunningham and A. Morris Williams Jr., philanthropists and co-founders of Fund’s Philadelphia Scholars Program, Mohamed Kakay, a graduate of University City High School, Citi, and the Free Library of Philadelphia.
While their student loads may make it tough for high school counselors to make sure students don’t fall through the cracks, the College Access Program and other programs that the Philadelphia Education Fund offers pick up the slack, Fixman says.
At least that’s what Shanee Garner and Daryl Davis found out.
Before landing at West Philadelphia High School, Garner had bounced around to various schools. She connected with the CAP after the program’s West Philadelphia High coordinator took a look at the scholastic records of she and some of her classmates.
“She looked at our records and saw that we were good students in middle school, but bad students in high school,” said Garner, who is a graduate of Chestnut Hill College and currently teaches in Kensington High School’s Urban Education Academy. “She said, ‘You are all imposters! I’m here to help you no longer be an imposter!”
The program helped Garner, who is one of nine kids and only the second one to go to college, make sense of the applications process for college. It also helped her to pay for school by providing a Philadelphia Scholars scholarship for her. The $3,000 scholarship is made available to students who went through the CAP to cover the last few dollars of tuition or book money they may need, Fixman said.
“Not having to worry about money made it easier to concentrate on getting on the Dean’s List,” Garner said.
Davis had a similar story. While he was an admitted “problem child” who spent too much time in the principal’s office, his transcripts told a different story, he said.
“I had a 3.2 grade point average in spite of myself,” he admits.
Davis connected with the CAP program at Roxborough High School. He not only became the first in his family to graduate high school, he is also the first to graduate college after completing his degree at Pennsylvania State University.
His experience in the CAP inspired him to take his current job; Penn State’s representative for the National College Advising Corps in Philadelphia. As he put together SAT fee waiver applications and transcript requests for the students he currently advises, Davis said that his CAP experience made him realize just how important a role the help he received played in his life.
“I wanted to give back because others helped me,” he said. “I tell them my story because I hope it will motivate them to go to college. If I did it, you can do it.”
While the Fund has done a good job helping students find their way to college through the College Assistance Program and the Philadelphia Scholars program, a program that awards last-dollar scholarships to students in CAP, there’s much more that can be done.
“We’ve helped a lot of kids,” she said. “But we would like to do more”
For more information on the Philadelphia Education Fund, please visit www.philaedfund.org.