The end of the school year is my favorite time to write–not because I’m looking forward to a slow summer, but because so many inspirational stories seem to crop up all at once. As high school graduation closes in, stories about young people overcoming adversity to reach their academic potential are in high demand from editors.
I’ve found several inspirational students to write about over the years through a couple of organizations that are making a difference for many young Latinos and financially challenged young people.
First, the QuestBridge program “matches” low-income students with elite universities to provide a fully paid college education. I once wrote an article about a young man from the Dallas suburbs who was matched with Princeton University. His parents, immigrants from Mexico, had not even completed elementary school.
A second option is the Gates Millennium Scholars program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization offers fully paid tuition, in some cases through graduate school, to qualified low-income, minority students. Gates scholar Rodrigo Fernandez, who ranked first in his high school class at Simon Rivera High School in Brownsville, Texas, explained to The Brownsville Herald how the Gates scholarship lifted pressure off him. ”The day I got it I was really happy because I knew that now I could focus on my studies without having to worry about everything else, that I could stop worrying about the money and other financial things,” said Fernandez, who will attend the University of Texas at Austin and whose older sister also won the award.
I’m not suggesting that you simply write a straight news piece about someone winning the award. If you delve deeper into their life story, you may find a strong narrative story to tell.
It’s also important to ask who are the counselors who are identifying and guiding students toward applying for these scholarships? The process of writing essays and requesting recommendations can be time-consuming. The difference between students who win these awards and the talented ones who don’t can be due to the quality of advising, and that’s unfortunate.
A few years ago, I presented on a panel at the Education Writers Association conference about “undermatching.” The term refers to how many young minority and low-income students often set their goals too low and are qualified to enroll in more academically rigorous colleges than they actually apply to.
As reporters, we should keep an eye out for schools that are doing a better job of guiding young people toward these opportunities. We should also ask why so many schools are failing to offer that support.