Published: Sep 11, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Sep 11, 2012 02:42 PM
Two years ago, 18-year-old Carey Cabrera, the oldest of five children raised by a single mother, had no idea what she wanted to study in college or, more importantly, how she would pay for it.
But with help from the Emily K Center in Durham, Cabrera, who has since developed an interest in international aid work, is heading to Wellesley College this year. Much of the $55,000 cost of her tuition, room and board will be covered by financial aid.
To help students from low-income families make the transition from high school to college, the Emily K Center has launched a new program this year called Scholars on Campus.
The program will continue to support Cabrera and six other students who graduated from the center’s Scholars to College program, which was for high schoolers who demonstrated academic potential and who were eligible for free or reduced lunches.
In the new program, each student receives a laptop computer if one was not provided by their school. The center is also giving the families webcams to help them keep in touch, and staffers will check in with the students regularly via Skype and e-mail, offering advice on everything from where to find university resources and how to use study groups, to nutrition and how to balance their academic and social lives.
Another purpose of the program is to provide mental and social support by building on the rapport the students established with each other and with the center.
“We want them to continue to be advocates for themselves and be proactive when they need to be,” said Ashlea Hitchcock, programming and partnerships coordinator at Emily K. “One of the things that was really important and intentional in our program was the extended family. The students have strong relationships, so they hold each other accountable.”Like a family
Cabrera, for one, is taking skills such as networking and time management that she learned at the center to college, and looks forward to staying in touch with the other Scholars.
“I’m excited to come back and see the girls,” she said. The inaugural Scholars class is all girls, coincidentally. “We have kind of become like a family. We come from different backgrounds, different races, but we love each other a lot.”
Students from low-income families are typically more susceptible to academic and social strain in college, and are more likely to drop out.
A 2011 University of Michigan study found an increasing gap in graduation rates between students from low-income families and those from high-income families.
Hitchcock said the Scholars on Campus program seeks to ensure the students will graduate with as little college debt as possible and will be prepared for the work world.Keeping tabs
A retreat was held to kick off the program, and the students will return to the center twice this year for workshops. Hitchcock also will visit the students on campus.
In her first week at UNC, Vianey Martinez, 18, another Scholar, already has been checking in with the center on buying books and finding classes.
Martinez, who immigrated to the U.S. when she was 9 years old, said the center had stepped up in high school when her parents’ language and cultural barriers prevented them from helping her.
“They made sure I was staying on top of everything: ‘Do you need a tutor? Do you need help?’ Every week, we checked in. It was like having a mom, always there to push you,” she said.
“There are a lot of organizations that help first-generation students, but having a support system here in Durham that I’ve known for two years already, it makes me feel more comfortable,” Martinez added.
The new program is expected to cost the center about $2,300 per student this year, not including the cost of staff hours. Another 45 students are expected to enroll in the program in the next four years.
The nonprofit Emily K Center was founded in 2006 by Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who named it after his mother.
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