Arely is a high school senior who always has tried to do her best in school. Math and statistics are her favorite subjects, the South Sider says. After classes are done for the day, she’s hanging out with her school’s robotics club. When we talked she was too modest to mention it, but one of her teachers told me she’s also a great writer.
You’d think if you were a bright and talented student who did all your work and then some, going to college would be the natural next step. But it’s not that simple, especially if you are undocumented.
The Noble Network of Charter Schools, which opened in 1999, quickly discovered that with its first class of seniors. Here they had these teens who were outstanding students, young people who could go out and capture the world. But a four-year college was financially out of their reach. Being undocumented meant they were not eligible for government financial aid.
Without some sort of assistance, education beyond high school was not possible.
“Certainly [these students] had obstacles others didn’t have,” says Michael Milkie, the Noble Network’s CEO and superintendent.
But the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy put forth by the Obama administration in 2012 opened a new door. Students who qualified for DACA were now eligible to apply for scholarships. (DACA allows certain undocumented persons who came here before their 16th birthday to apply for renewable two-year permits that exempt them from deportation.)
So Noble got working on a program that would give their bright undocumented students access to scholarships (not government assistance). The result is a partnership between 14 colleges across the country and Noble that supports those undocumented seniors who are in the network’s Pritzker Access Scholarship program. What it came up with is a bit of weaving, so to speak.
These colleges — including five in Illinois — will give the approximately 70 students enough annual funding to close the financial gap between what they receive through the Pritzker scholarships. That money will make continuing their education a reality. In addition to this, the school will encourage these students to stay connected to other Noble alumni who can give them advice about college, tutoring and more. See? A net has been stitched together to help these students from falling away from education and better careers. I like that.
“This is a game changer,” says Milkie, who spoke of the students’ reaction when the program was announced. Now, the students “realized that they had many options that they would not have had.”
“It was like they won the lottery,” he says.
It’s been motivation for not only the participating seniors to do their best, according to Milkie. Younger students are realizing that the door to education doesn’t have to close with high school graduation. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Milkie says. Arely, one of the students benefitting from this new initiative, is very matter of fact about what it does for her. “I wouldn’t be able to go to college without it.” She talks about how in high school, it’s drilled into the students to be motivated to do their best, and she and her classmates have, but without money college wasn’t really possible.
She is still deciding which college to attend, but knows she wants to double major in computer science and English. With this program at Noble, “I can dream a little bit more.”