College Summit prepares students for the application process and college life.
Marqualo McDaniels isn’t just busy with his own college search — he’s helping his classmates with theirs as well. A senior at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy in St. Louis, he serves as a peer leader in the College Summit program, which works to make higher education possible for low-income students across the nation.
Each year, College Summit assembles a group of incoming high school seniors — such as McDaniels — for mentor training.
“If you’ve ever seen a bunch of kids trying their hearts out…,” 17-year-old McDaniels said, trailing off. “I can’t put it into words. I don’t think it was so much of a session as it was a movement. We created a family. We took away so much more than the college process.”
The results are tangible. In 2004, the college enrollment rate for St. Louis public schools was 34%. That was before College Summit began working in 14 area buildings, including McDaniels’. In 2011, that rate had risen to nearly 69%.
“It not only teaches you about college, it teaches you skills you can use post-secondary, once you leave college,” McDaniels said. “Life skills, and how to make it. Things teens can relate to and carry over into their adulthood that can make them successful adults and citizens of the world.”
College Summit was founded in the early ’90s by J.B. Schramm, who was running a teen center in the basement of a low-income housing project in Washington, D.C. Eighteen years later, the program has expanded into 12 states and 170 high schools, influencing the lives of over 50,000 teenagers a year.
According to the College Summit website, “Students from the low-income quartile who gets A’s on standardized tests go to college at the same rate as their higher income peers who get D’s on the same tests.” Schramm is working to change that.
A College Summit media representative described Schramm as a social entrepreneur. He said he identifies first as an educator, though his organization plays a key role in encouraging students to invest in their future, primarily by putting power into the hands of students.
“We can’t think of school as where we pour education into kids,” Schramm said. “Young people can be drivers of culture, they can be drivers of achievement in their school. We just need to start recognizing that young people can be drivers of change and give them that responsibility.”
To make this possible, the program calls on educators as well. Cathy Engle is a coordinator for College Summit at Valley High School in Smithers, W.V., where she teaches 10th-grade social studies, sociology and economics. She said the most rewarding part of her job is seeing students when they come to her, excited with their acceptance letters.
But getting them to this point can be difficult. Many students College Summit works with lack guidance through the application process.
“It’s not that their parents don’t care, it’s that they don’t know what to do because they never went to college,” Engle said.
In two years partnering with College Summit, Valley High’s college enrollment rate has risen from 33% to 58%.
For College Summit, bridging the gap between high school and ongoing education or training is key to a student’s success in a competitive job market. While that doesn’t always mean a four-year degree, Schramm stressed going beyond a high school diploma shouldn’t be the focus of discussion.
“The real debate should be on what kind of education prepares a young person to succeed in their career,” he said. “… The fact is all young people need careers, and all young people need post-secondary education in order to succeed in their careers. So, pitting college versus career is a false dichotomy.”
Whatever path program participants take, McDaniels said he’s thankful for the College Summit experience.
“College Summit indicates the mind, the body and the soul,” he said.
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