Surprise! Hundreds of students win scholarships from new KC Scholars program

When the head of the Ewing Marion Kauffman School pulled 14-year-old Kenyon Childress out of class Monday morning, he started wondering what had he done wrong.

That is, until he saw his mother standing in the school hallway.

“I knew I wasn’t in trouble because my mother was smiling,” Kenyon said.

What he didn’t know, but later learned, is that he was one of 355 Kansas City area students to receive one of the first KC Scholars scholarships through a new program launched by the Kauffman Foundation.

And making the morning surprise even better, his mother, Chaquita Weston, learned that she was one of 91 adults to receive an adult learners scholarship worth up to $5,000 a year for five years from KC Scholars.

By noon Monday, 608 schoolchildren and adults had learned they are part of the first class of KC Scholars, a three-tiered scholarship and college-savings program designed to carry forward a Kauffman Foundation mission to help low- and modest-income families complete higher education.

“Really!” Weston said when she learned that she and her son would get the financial help they need to make their college dreams real. Weston, a single mother of five, said she has always wanted to go back to school and earn her degree in health information management. She’s thinking maybe she’d like to attend Avila University.

Kenyon, who by now was smiling too, has his heart set on studying chemical engineering. In his application essay, he said going to college has been his main goal since second grade.

“He and his mother are really so deserving, it’s so beautiful,” said Hannah Lofthus, chief executive officer of the Kauffman school.

“This is so special that a mother and son get to go to college at the same time,” said Beth Tankersley-Bankhead, director of KC Scholars. “You are the future and the future of the Kansas City area.”

The KC Scholars program has been in the making for nearly two years, Tankersley-Bankhead said. It was designed by a committee of 70 Kansas City community partners.

While the Kauffman Foundation is putting $79 million over 10 years into the new program, the expectation is that community groups will contribute millions of dollars to fund the scholarship program for many years.

In September, KC Scholars received about 2,000 applications from students at 97 high schools in the six counties the program will serve — Jackson, Cass, Clay and Platte in Missouri and Wyandotte and Johnson in Kansas. Some 71 percent of the applicants would be the first in their family to complete college.

Applications were reviewed by 117 community volunteers. They awarded 285 high school juniors scholarships worth $10,000 a year for up to five years.

Jared Hoskins, a 17-year-old junior at Paseo Academy, was ecstatic when he heard he’d won the $50,000 KC Scholars scholarship. Without it, Hoskins said, affording college would be impossible for him and his family.

“This is a big, very big deal,” said Jared, who wants to be a medical doctor. Because another scholarship from a different program is sending him to Thailand for his senior year of high school, Jared said he will spend part of his time there figuring out where he’ll go to college.

“I can’t wait to tell my mother about this,” Jared said. “It’s looking more and more every day like I will be going to college.”

Seventy high school freshmen, including Kenyon, won college savings match and incentive scholarships.

Kenyon gets $50 to start a college savings account, and for every dollar he puts in, KC Scholars will put in $4, up to $7,000. While in high school he also will get a chance to earn up to $2,000 more by doing necessary tasks in preparation for college such as taking the ACT or SAT and visiting college campuses.

KC Scholars is the third college scholarship program the Kauffman Foundation has invested in.

In 1988, Ewing Kauffman launched Project Choice at Westport High School, and then in 2003 the foundation rolled out Kauffman Scholars, a 19-year-long program that funds a college education for students who qualified for the program in middle school. There are 1,013 active Kauffman Scholars. That program ends in 2022.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc