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Gates Foundation Offers Opportunity to Students, Inspiration to Teacher

More than 270 high school students from Washington, D.C. will spend a month at McDaniel preparing for college.

by Cindy Parr

When A. D. Potts walked onto the McDaniel College campus on Monday, June 27, he didn’t know what to expect. A 14-year public high school math teacher, Potts was the newest instructor hired to teach some of Washington D.C.’s lowest income students in the Summer Enrichment Program at McDaniel College.

There is one thing he already knows after just one week on the summer teaching job: “I would do it again in a minute. I have learned a lot about these kids who are here in Carroll County from a very different area,” Potts said.

Themed, “Taking Care of Our World House,” the four week summer program provides 272 rising high school seniors an opportunity to earn two college credits through instruction in math, English, media and other cultural educational experiences.

The primary goal of the program is to increase the number of low income students graduating from college and attaining degrees.

The nearly $1 million program was started with a grant from the Gates Foundation and is run through the College Success Foundation based in the District of Columbia.

Kya Dixon, program officer for the College Success Foundation said the plan is to reach the students with the most need. “This year we had 600 applicants from six high schools located in Wards 7 and 8. These are the most impoverished wards in the city.”

Dixon explained there is an application process which includes an evaluation, essay writing, interviews and personal recommendations.

“We had approximately 600 students who applied and we selected 272 people,” Dixon said. “We look at the students and assess their potential. It isn’t always about their grade point average. Students could have a 2.5 grade point average and they could be selected because they show promise and the desire to succeed.”

After students are accepted into the program, they receive access to resources such as tutors and mentors, as well as help with taking the SAT's and applying for college. They must attend the summer enrichment program and when they are accepted to college, the Gates Foundation provides funding to help pay tuition. 

As early as the first day of class, Potts noticed his summer students’ desire to achieve. “These kids are so highly motivated. There is no sense of entitlement,” he said. “They gave me their respect the minute they walked in the door. They know this is their shot for a better life. They want to be here. They worked hard to get here.”

In addition to receiving instruction, students are able to participate in three field trips that represent the summer program theme.

“Fridays are field trip days,” explained Lisa Breslin, acting associate dean of student life at McDaniel College. “They [students] get to go to a robotic dairy farm that is powered by manure, an organic farm and then on a camping trip where they can horseback ride, canoe and just enjoy the outdoors.”

Breslin, who spearheaded the program for the last two years, said students also get to attend classes through McDaniel College’s “Common Ground on the Hill.”

Last year about 220 students were hosted by McDaniel College for the summer program, which is in its fifth year. Previously, the program had been run through the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

For program directors Breslin and Dixon, the intense four week program is an opportunity to inspire these students and help them begin to lay a foundation for future college success.

“This is a litmus test,” Breslin said. “We challenge them, watch them succeed and when they do, they know they’re prepared to go to college.”

Dixon agreed saying, “There is a transformation of the students from not being sure to having the confidence that attaining a college degree is a possibility. They come to realize that it is definitely within their reach.”

For A.D. Potts, his first week of teaching his summer program students has been exciting and motivating.

“I see how badly these kids want to succeed. Being here with them has made me want to raise the expectation, raise the bar higher, push harder,” Potts said. “This [summer program] has inspired me and given me some new ideas that I will take back to my high school classroom.”

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