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BRENDEN JONES graduated from Propel Andrew Street High School, June 6. He’s pictured with principal Lauren Reiber. (Photo courtesy Propel Schools)

One email message changed Brenden Jones’ future plans.

As of April 2018, the recent Propel Andrew Street High School graduate was wondering how he would close the gap between the amount of scholarship money he had been granted from a variety of colleges and universities and the total cost of pursuing his post-secondary education goals.

Then he opened the email.

The email informed him that he was one of 300 high school seniors in the United States to be awarded The Gates Scholarship. The highly selective award covers tuition for him to enroll full-time in a four-year degree program at a U.S.-accredited, not-for-profit, private or public college or university.

“It took a big weight off my shoulders,” said Jones, a Homestead resident, in a release provided to the New Pittsburgh Courier. Recalling how his mother cried at the news, Jones added: “My goal when I was starting (to consider college) was to not have any of my college costs fall back on her. I didn’t want to put that on her because we’re not rich or anything like that.”

“My teachers taught me that I could go as far as I wanted to. I wanted to learn and that’s what got me to where I am now.”

BRENDEN JONES

Paying college tuition, plus food, housing, books and supplies can be a steep challenge. The College Board reports that a moderate budget for an in-state public college for the 2017-2018 academic year averaged $25,290. A moderate budget at a private college averaged $50,900.

When Jones was asked what colleges he applied to, he pulled out his cellphone and read a list of nearly 20 of the nation’s top schools. He decided on Northwestern University in the Chicago area, with a cost of attendance in excess of $72,000. He intends to have a double major—economics and, perhaps, psychology.

“I had actually forgotten about the Gates at one point because when I started the application it was in July and I didn’t hear back until April,” he explained. “I was preparing for the worst. You know, I didn’t expect it.”

At one point, Jones had envisioned himself playing professional football or basketball after high school.

“I really didn’t mind school in elementary and middle school. It was easy for me. I didn’t really stress about it. I procrastinated a lot,” said Jones.

During his eighth-grade year at Propel Homestead, he stopped playing basketball so that he could get a job and save some money. He also broke his foot and was on crutches for 11 weeks.

“I had a lot of time to sit and reflect on my life without sports,” he said. “Learning was what filled that gap.”

In his ninth-grade year at Propel Andrew Street, Jones was inspired by a civics teacher.

“He was the first teacher who made me think about life outside of Propel. He helped us learn about setting ourselves up after high school,” Jones said, adding that the small classroom sizes at Propel Schools made it possible for him to always have access to helpful teachers.

With this new direction, Jones’ first post-high school plan was to attend a small college close to home because that was more affordable than attending a college further away. But he got involved with a program called QuestBridge, which works to increase the number of talented students from low-income backgrounds attending the nation’s best universities.

Jones entered the Carnegie Library Music Hall for the June 6 commencement ceremony wearing a blue cap and gown. Among the items showing his scholarship were a National Honor Society Member medal and pin, and blue and gold cords denoting his high honor roll status.

“My teachers taught me that I could go as far as I wanted to,” Jones said. “I wanted to learn and that’s what got me to where I am now.”

 

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