Guest Commentary

Forget the college cheating scandal. KC Scholars students achieve on their own merits

This past month, the news and your social media feeds have been buzzing about the scandal of wealthy individuals paying for their children’s admission into colleges. Bribery. Cheating. Test-faking. And while we could dwell on the unlawful, unethical, inequitable nature of this issue, we want to tell you a different story happening right here in Kansas City.

Imagine the first day of May. Select juniors from local high schools are asked to leave class. They have no clue what’s going on. They’re led not to the principal’s office, but to the gym. Once inside, they’re surprised by a crowd of teachers, supporters, friends, family and community members. They’re celebrated like blue chip athletic recruits, but this isn’t about sports.

These students are the 2019 Class of KC Scholars, a college scholarship program for low- and modest-income students. In this moment, they see how much their community believes in them and is investing in their future. They understand the magnitude of the moment and they start a course of learning that takes them far, but brings them back to work and raise families in our great region. This is our Kansas City story.

In three years, KC Scholars has become a nationwide example. It was built on lessons learned from Kauffman Scholars and with extensive input from educators, parents and community leaders. The program awards scholarships to underrepresented students and adults across the bistate, six-county region. The model matches renewable financial support with college planning and persistent support.

There are currently more than 1,500 KC Scholars, nearly 500 of them in college. They come from 81 unique public, private, charter and home-based schools across the region. 75 percent are first in their family to attend college. 76 percent are individuals of color. They range six generations in age and serve as role models to their friends, families and our community. They work hard and sacrifice for their dreams. They pour every ounce of themselves into our scholarship application and program. They are optimistic. They are humble. They are ready.

By 2027, we have a big goal: to provide support to 25,000 learners. Why did we set such a grand goal? Because we believe so deeply in lifting up the underrepresented in this region and believe that a bet on them will turn into a diverse, idea-rich, economically successful Kansas City. This is a city with so much momentum and vibrancy in business, the arts, science and more. Everyone needs to be a part of it. The only way to do this is to make education more equitable. We need to make sure a bright, wonderful 17-year-old in a neighborhood near you feels like she can choose knowledge and college over staying home and a dream deferred.

If you believe in this city, if you believe in creating the most diverse, skills-backed workforce and citizenry in the country, I urge you to join us by:

Celebrating our KC Scholars on May 1 by sending a scholar a note of congratulations at info@kcscholars.org.

Encouraging students to apply next year

Emboldening teachers to inspire their students

Signing up to become an essay reviewer, which can be done from the comfort of your own home and many reviewers say has changed their own lives

Committing to hiring KC Scholars once they’re out of college

Participating in our community events and helping us fund the future economy and vitality of Kansas City

In a world where bribes are paid for college entrance tests and essays, I’d like to end on a different type of essay — one from a KC Scholar:

(My father) never got to take me to my first day of kindergarten or any first day for that matter. He made the decision to abandon his family when he made the wrong choices…

I became obsessed with having all A’s very early on. I feel like that’s the one thing no one can take away from me and nobody can take credit for. I continue to push myself to do my best because nobody is here to do it for me. At times, I do struggle and I do fall behind because I’m managing school and a part-time job. I find myself working more than 30 hours a week and stressing about school. I don’t mind the extra responsibilities, but I wish I could have more time for myself. I struggle with being involved in school activities since the majority of them are scheduled after school and I never have time to attend. My teenage years came to a halt too soon and it’s hard making it on my own. I want nothing more than to go to college knowing that I did all I could in high school to prepare me for my career.

Beth Tankersley-Bankhead is president and CEO of KC Scholars.

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