By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
A national organization that Gen. Colin Powell founded gave out 36 grants of up to $20,000 each this month to students around the country with good ideas about how to encourage their classmates to stay in school and graduate.
Two of those national grants from America's Promise Alliance went to 17-year-old seniors at Buchtel High School.
Akil Gregory leads a team of seniors called the Griffin Scholars who won a $19,500 ''My Idea'' grant to ensure that freshmen stay on course for graduation.
Kaliah Nash won a $10,000 grant to help students stay on track for graduation at Buchtel and three other high schools: Ellet, East and Kenmore.
Both seniors attend Buchtel, but they are associated with two different organizations.
Project GRAD helped Gregory's team apply for the grant.
Nash participates in the Educational Development and Guidance for Employment (EDGE) program at East Akron Community House, which helps Buchtel, Ellet, East and Kenmore high school students get work experience and develop job skills.
Although Ellet has a 90 percent graduation rate, which is just enough to pass the state standard, East has the worst in Summit County with 74 percent, followed by Kenmore with 75 percent and Buchtel with 77 percent, according to the most recent state report cards.
Gregory's Griffin Scholars team (Steven Harris, Shavonda Johnson, Shanik Shropshire and Brianna Reed) will focus their efforts on making sure ninth-graders start high school on a firm footing and don't lose their way.
They started planning their grant application last spring.
''When you're just coming into high school, it's hard to get acclimated to all the different stuff that you have to do that's different from middle school, how people aren't really holding your hand as much anymore,'' Gregory said.
The money will help pay for dinners and other events that bring students and parents together to hear speakers and attend cultural events such as the Tuesday Musical Series at E.J. Thomas Hall.
They also want to improve Buchtel's image in the community by emphasizing academic achievements.
''When the community gets involved with seeing these freshmen grow up and they're involved in everything, they start to see that Buchtel really is a place where you can send your students and they'll learn,'' Gregory said.
He belongs to the National Honor Society and is state president of the Future Educators Association. He hopes to attend Brown University and major in biomedical engineering so he can teach at a collegiate level.
Gregory had been a student at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in Cuyahoga Falls, but he said he decided to attend his neighborhood high school when he realized that the negative things he'd heard about it weren't true.
''When I go to CVCA and then I come back, I don't see anyone from that school because it's not my community,'' Gregory said. ''When I go to Buchtel and then I come out, I can't go anywhere around here, I can't go anywhere in the city anymore, without seeing somebody that I know, and it's nice to have that type of connection.''
The Griffin Scholars grant will be formally announced Saturday at a 9 a.m. rally at Buchtel for Project GRAD's annual Walk for Success a day of activities in the Buchtel neighborhood to inform parents about Project GRAD's many programs aimed at boosting high school and college graduation.
Nash got the idea for her grant because of her association with consultant Patricia Smoot Wicks, who has a youth development program and works with EDGE.
Nash's idea called ''Get it Done!'' provides social marketing tools to help students hold each other accountable for staying on track with their grades to graduate.
They'll help students check periodic transcripts to make sure they're completing the necessary credits on schedule.
They'll use Twitter to announce events, and draw students from the four high schools where EDGE is active to the Facebook page.
''We're going to make a Facebook group, and that's just our way of marketing because most people my age and even adults are all over Facebook and Twitter,'' Nash said.
Nash hopes to attend college somewhere in the south and pursue a degree in international relations.
AT&T contributed $1 million to America's Promise Alliance, described as ''the nation's largest partnership organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth.''
Powell founded the organization in 1997. His wife, Alma, now serves as chairwoman.