Posted on December 21, 2015
Some may assume that the highest performing and hardest working students will naturally attend elite colleges and universities and have access to the financial assistance needed to attend those schools. The fact is, that statistically speaking, even students with nearly identical test scores, grades and abilities have wildly divergent prospects for higher education, dictated largely by their socio-economic status. For instance, among high achieving students with SAT scores over 1200, those from families earning incomes in the bottom 25 percent are only half as likely to graduate from college compared to non-low-income students.
A new partnership between the Elevation Foundation, Orange County Public Schools, and the University of Central Florida aims to close the gap by identifying and developing high performing students at Orange County’s Title I high schools (those where at least 40 percent of students are from low-income families). The partners of the Elevation Scholars Program recognize that great leaders often arise out of challenging circumstances. The goal of the program is to identify these future leaders and maximize their educational opportunity. “These students are amazing, taking difficult classes, making top marks, and leading their peers in a variety of extracurricular activities,” says Darrell Cañamás, Assistant Principal of Instruction at Colonial High School.
The Elevation Scholars Program’s approach is atypical and involves much more than awarding scholarships that help students afford college once they’re admitted. The program focuses primarily on motivating and preparing students as early as eighth grade to pursue a college education and then equipping them with the skills they’ll need to secure not only admission to selective colleges but also necessary financial aid. “There is a wealth of resources to help these amazing students succeed in college but they need help accessing those resources,” says Scott Lee, President of the Elevation Foundation.
With the help of school administration, underclassmen are identified and selected for participation and become Elevation Fellows, who then benefit throughout their high school careers from a variety of enrichment programs focusing primarily on college readiness. Activities with titles like, “You Can Afford to Dream” encourage students to think about the benefits of higher education and to begin seeing the possibility of attending an elite college or university as realistically attainable. After their junior year, Elevation Fellows apply to become an Elevation Scholar, an award that provides extensive college admissions assistance, summer programming and academic achievement incentives .
A large part of the motivation strategy hinges on exposing Elevation Fellows to college students and graduates from similar backgrounds who have succeeded — students like Revel Lubin, the inaugural Elevation Scholar who graduated last spring from Oak Ridge High School, where 92 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
After a challenging childhood, Revel became Senior Class president and was the subject of lengthy profile in the Orlando Sentinel after he organized a Thanksgiving food drive for the families of homeless classmates. He was accepted to the University of Florida, Morehouse College, and Wake Forest University and offered over $300,000 in total financial aid.
Students and faculty at UCF, specifically in The Burnett Honors College, also play a major role in the program. Honors students participate extensively in mentoring and coaching Elevation Fellows, ultimately delivering a large portion of the planned programming. Elevation Fellows visit the UCF campus and attend workshops on subjects like admissions essays, financial aid applications, and standardized test preparation.
In turn, UCF students gain an invaluable opportunity for service-learning, a key component of The Burnett Honors College curriculum intended to further the learning objectives of academic courses, address community needs, and require students to reflect on their activities in order to gain an appreciation for the relationship between civics and academics.
“The partnership between Elevation Financial, OCPS, and The Burnett Honors College is a great example of a campus-community program that lifts the lives of Central Floridians,” says Alvin Wang, the dean of the college. “This is especially meaningful because it allows Honors students to be positive role models and to share the dream of going to college with underserved high-school students.”
Still in its first year, the UCF, Elevation and OCPS partnership has the potential to deliver meaningful change in Orange County and beyond by ensuring that more and more students like Revel Lubin have every opportunity to fulfill their remarkable potential. Successful kick-off events have already taken place at three Orange County Title 1 high schools including Oak Ridge, Maynard Evans and Colonial.
“We believe that because of the daily challenges they must overcome to achieve academic success, many potentially high performing students require special preparation for the level of college opportunity they have earned,” says Chris King, CEO of Elevation Financial Group. “By offering that preparation, it is within our reach to begin breaking the cycle of poverty that results from educational inequality.”
About the Elevation Scholars Program
The Elevation Scholars Program was established in 2014 by The Elevation Foundation, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)3 public charity in Florida that is principally involved in the development of future leaders in Title 1 high schools in Orange County, Florida. The Elevation Foundation serves as the key philanthropic vehicle for Elevation Financial Group, LLC, a real estate investment company involved in the acquisition, revitalization, development and management of affordable apartment communities.
To learn more about the Elevation Foundation or Elevation Financial Group contact Scott Lee at Slee@elevationfinancialgroup.com or 407-215-1355.