Recently, I had the opportunity to join more than 100 leaders from the nation’s selective admissions public high schools at a summit focusing on the academic disparity between lower-income and higher-income students. “Closing the Excellence Gap: Building the Pipeline” was a two-day summit hosted by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation in Washington, D.C. The Cooke Foundation is a nonprofit organization that offers the largest scholarships in the country to high-performing students who have financial need.
The group learned about cutting-edge research, as well as sharing and identifying best practices for supporting high-achieving, low-income students. At the same event last year, principals and directors worked together to form a new organization called the Coalition of Leaders for Advanced Student Success (CLASS) with an agenda to support and advocate for these students. The decision to participate in the event and to champion the work of the CLASS Coalition was an easy choice. We are leaders in our communities who have a stake in nurturing talent wherever we find it and regardless of a student’s economic status. We need talent to remain competitive as a nation. The continued conversations, discussions and debates with peers from across the nation is a reminder that the work that schools like the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts does is critical in developing the talents of students from rural, underserved and other distinct communities where resources are not always readily available.
It’s also exciting to be a part of the work of an organization as exciting and dynamic as the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. By offering the largest scholarships in the country, in-depth academic counseling and other direct services, the foundation seeks to help high-performing, low-income students to develop their talents and excel educationally. In addition to providing students both counseling and financial support from middle school to graduate school, the foundation provides grants for noteworthy and innovative initiatives that support these students. Founded in 2000, the foundation has awarded more than $130 million in scholarships to almost 1,900 students and more than $80 million in grants.
The foundation enables high-ability middle and high school students with financial need to realize their full academic potential. Through the Young Scholars Program, the foundation has to date supported more than 800 students from across the nation, providing them with individualized educational advising combined with comprehensive financial support from the eighth grade through high school. Young Scholars receive the following support from the Cooke Foundation: a personal academic and college counselor, funding for academic and enrichment programs in the summer and during the school year, internship and study abroad opportunities, plus educational resources including books and technology.
The Young Scholars Program is a national scholarship with students representing every region and attending school in rural, urban and suburban communities. Students apply to become Young Scholars during their seventh-grade year. The current application cycle opened in January and continues through April of this year.
Arkansas has long been hailed as the “Natural State,” a complex environment filled with streams, forests, lakes and mountains waiting to be discovered. Our talent pool is equally diverse, and there are a number of talented yet under-resourced students waiting for an opportunity to shine. A dear friend and mentor of mine would always note, “An opportunity isn’t an opportunity if you don’t know about it.” So consider this an opportunity to be an advocate, to seek out students with exceptional need and exceptional ability, and let them know that there are groups like CLASS, the Cooke Foundation and others who want to see them succeed.