As the three-day PromiseNet 2001 conference highlighting the success of the Pittsburgh Promise and its counterparts in other cities drew to its close, five college students who had received Promise scholarships took the stage to give their assessments of how well the programs work.

All expressed their deep gratitude, saying they would not have had the opportunity to attend college if they had not qualified for the scholarships, but they also said the programs did not adequately prepare them for the level and intensity of college coursework.

FIRST PERSON ACCOUNTS—Pittsburgh Superintendent of Schools Linda Lane introduces Promise Scholars Morgan Dorn, Jasmine Granville, Julia Cahill, David Cahill and Vanessa Thompson, who described their experiences during the PromiseNet 2011 final session, Oct. 21. (Photos by Rossano P. Stewart)

Jasmine Granville, a Kalamazoo Promise recipient, is now at Kalamazoo Community College after transferring from Western Michigan University. She said she was not ready for college when she graduated.

“I had no pressure at home to excel, and very little at school until I was a senior. Only one teacher pushed me, she drove me,” she said. “There are good teachers, but in my opinion, we weren’t prepared at all. College is a whole other leap.”

Julia Cahill, a Carnegie Mellon student who graduated from Pittsburgh CAPA, said she was lucky to have classmates who also worked while attending school like she did, but college is a whole other experience.

“I wasn’t fully prepared to juggle two jobs and my school work,” she said. “There has to be more emphasis on teaching time management and real-world challenges beyond just making the grade to get into the program.”

Cahill’s brother David, who attended Pittsburgh Brashear and now studies physics at Pitt, said he, personally, was prepared for college, but only because he took all advanced courses.

“Raise the bar for everyone,” he said. “Right now, we set it low so kids won’t feel bad. No—set it high. Respect them. “

Westinghouse graduate Vanessa Thompson, who now attends Chatham University, said part of the problem with preparing students for college stems from how they are stratified in high school.

“People get classified by stereotypes,” she said. “Oh, you’re cute—you’ll do fine. Or, you’re a goofball, or you’re a troublemaker. Some teachers give up on ‘bad’ kids, but that affects the way everyone is treated.”

Morgan Dorn, who earned his scholarship through the Denver Scholarship Program and now attends Colorado State University, agreed.

“The best kids were funneled toward challenging work, but the rest of us ‘other kids’ were just left there,” he said. “I had to go find the challenge. I had to go ask, ‘how do I get into the class with the laptops and the resources?’ I found a teacher who showed me.”

While all agreed Promise-type scholarship programs should have a real-world component to ready students for the day to day differences between high school and college, like Dorn, they all referenced a single teacher who, somewhere along the way, challenged them to do more.

All five said the programs have instilled them with the desire to give back in some way. Dorn plans to become a teacher. Thompson would like to go into criminal justice, but doubts she can do so right away due to cost.

Granville said she doesn’t know just yet how she’ll give back, but it won’t be teaching—not right away.

“I’ll give back, but I don’t want to teach,” she said. “Not until I have long gray hair.”

The Pittsburgh Promise provides scholarships worth up to $40,000 toward tuition at in-state colleges, universities, trade and technical schools for students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools who graduate with a 2.5 grade point average and 90 percent attendance.

Since being established with a 10-year, $10 million grant from UPMC, the Promise has awarded $24.5 million in scholarships to more than 2,500 students throughout the Pittsburgh Public School system beginning with the class of 2008. It received a $100,000 donation from Direct Energy this year.

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