Talbot County Scholars Broadens College Visions for Youth

This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for over 15 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.

Have you ever run into a parent of a high school senior? The bewilderment in their eyes tells the story of how overwhelming the college preparation and selection process can be to families and to students. To address this issue, a group of Talbot County residents, led by educator Samantha Martinez, and backed by a private funder, did a feasibility study to examine best practices used by afterschool college access programs across the country to improve preparation for college. As a result, the nonprofit organization, Talbot County Scholars (TCS), was born to guide Talbot County students to, and through, college successfully.

Samantha Martinez, Director of Talbot County Scholars, comments, “This program is about helping students prepare for college and navigate the college enrollment process, as well as receiving academic enrichment – all in an afterschool setting. We exist to prepare, guide and financially support students to and through college.”

Samantha Martinez

According to the data most recently collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in the report, “The Big Payoff: Lifetime Earnings Soar With Education,” the median weekly earnings for full-time workers age 25 and older were $1,155 for workers with a bachelor’s degree and $1,435 for workers with an advanced degree. This compares to $679 for workers who never attended college and $782 for workers with some college or an associate degree.

The mission of Talbot County Scholars is to ensure that all scholars successfully complete a four-year college degree with minimal debt, leading to life-changing opportunities for social mobility in the future. The program will expand student horizons and guide scholars through the college application and financial aid process. TCS will also reinforce each scholar’s academic outcomes by committing to a rigorous, multiyear after-school academic enrichment curriculum, focusing on both Math and English. The academic enrichment program will train scholars to become critical, bold, independent thinkers who become highly-qualified applicants to four-year colleges and universities of their choice.

Another element of the program is coaching. TCS will provide dedicated adult coaches throughout participation in the program to provide guidance, encouragement, and support to the scholar as they navigate the application and financial aid process. In addition to this support, coaches will provide a pathway leading to networking and an increase of social capital, which will benefit TCS participants in future career paths and educational endeavors.

The final element of the program is financial scholarships. TCS will work alongside students to find, apply and decide on scholarships available to scholars who successfully enroll in four-year college programs. Overall, the program will prepare all students to be successful, competitive applicants to a suitable four-year college; ensure that students successfully complete their college education once matriculated; and provide guidance and financial support so that a college degree is attained with minimal debt.

Samantha adds that the program is privately funded through the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, stating, “We hope to help cover the cost of college trips and college applications so that there are no barriers to the students discovering the college that is the best fit for them.”

The program, which will meet in Easton once a week on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., will provide at least 10 hours per week of combined individualized and digitally-facilitated academic reinforcement to each scholar (40 weeks per year); will provide at least five group college visits per year to each high school junior and senior to provide exposure; and will provide individual coaching to help students find and apply for scholarships to lessen the financial burden of entering a four-year college. A college planning system will also help students track college applications, as well as scholarship and financial aid package offers.

Samantha comments, “Our vision at TC Scholars is to be a community-serving, nonprofit organization, that exists to establish an academically rigorous, student achievement-led program in which highly effective educators and college access specialists lead our students to attend the best fit university for them. TC Scholars strives to maximize opportunities for students that are academically capable, but who otherwise wouldn’t pursue a higher education. Our goal is to close the opportunity gap for students who lack guidance, as well as expand awareness of college options.”

The enrollment process for Talbot County Scholars will be available on November 1 and includes a competitive application process, including an online application, student and family interviews, and a classroom observation. The first year, the program hopes to choose six students – three sophomores and three juniors – for its pilot program which plans to begin January 12, 2019.

Samantha adds, “We are working with all local youth organizations and educational institutions to identify potential students for the program. Students are the future of Talbot County and we want to be the platform for conversations that talk about and cultivate possibilities for students in our county, realizing possibilities for each student and expanding their horizons.”

The Board of Advisors for Talbot County Scholars includes Marshall and Loretta Blume, Gordon Fronk, Gary Pearce, Richard Marks, Al Smith, and Don Cook. For further information, call Samantha Martinez, Director of Talbot County Scholars, at 312-623-1254.

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