By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
Nearly five-dozen Kenmore High School freshmen got the promise of $3,000 each in college scholarship money for attending a one-day college readiness program at the high school Wednesday.
If they stick with the program attending two one-day sessions a year through their senior year they could receive as much as $40,000 to attend one of four area private colleges.
The 58 freshmen are the first class in Akron Public Schools to participate in the Bridges Program. Sponsored by the Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges, the program aims to persuade urban students that a college education is not beyond their reach.
School counselor Christa Nuru conducted a survey of Kenmore's ninth-graders and selected students who would be the first in their families to attend college, had a grade-point average of about 2.5 or better, and wanted to go to college.
''That was one of the requirements the desire, wanting to go to college, interested in college,'' Nuru said.
The session comprised three parts: a problem-solving exercise, a presentation on the benefits of attending college and a question-and-answer session with five college students about what to expect.
The Bridges program will return in the spring for the second session and twice a year after that until these ninth-graders graduate. Topics covered will include filling out a financial aid form, hunting down scholarships and choosing the right college.
''We'll walk with them all the way through their senior year,'' said Bridges program manager, Brandon Scarborough. ''The goal is to get them to college. If they should go to one of our institutions, great. If not, as long as they go to school, our job is done.''
The students make out best financially if they attend one of four colleges: Hiram College, Oberlin College, Notre Dame College of Ohio and Ohio Wesleyan University.
The money piles up with each session, starting with a $3,000 annual tuition discount. The spring session would add $1,000 to the tuition benefit. Students completing the program would see their college costs cut by $10,000 a year, up to a maximum of $40,000.
The full discount amounts to almost half of the annual tuition at Notre Dame and Hiram, a third at Ohio Wesleyan and a fourth at Oberlin.
Another three participating schools Ursuline College, John Carroll University and Baldwin-Wallace College would award up to $5,000 a year, Scarborough said.
The Bridges Program started about two years ago and hasn't graduated a complete class yet, but it is reaching students in several northeast Ohio districts, including Cleveland and Elyria.
''After today, we've seen over 1,700 students,'' Scarborough said.
Two of those students, Kenmore freshmen Amber Ford, 14, and Courtney Von Stein, 15, worked together at Wednesday's session in a problem-solving exercise, which required students to transfer a pingpong ball through a Rube Goldberg-style structure using nothing but gravity.
They said they enjoyed the challenge and plan to stick with the program.
''I have plans to go to college to be a chef,'' Von Stein said.
Ford, a private first class in the U.S. Army Junior ROTC at Kenmore, was dressed in uniform. She said she plans to study law in college before joining the Army.
Also at the program were several college students who fielded all kinds of questions from curious ninth-graders some obvious ones about financial aid and college work load, some more basic, such as where to eat and whether you get your own bathroom.
Alaina Powell, a 21-year-old senior at Baldwin-Wallace College, said she could have used a program like Bridges when she was attending high school in Warrensville Heights.
''Just for high school students to get a little bit of the feedback from college kids, I feel like, is a really good opportunity because I didn't have it,'' she said. ''All the way through high school, I wish I had it.''