Story by Bob Romantic
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Seraphine Aziza, a senior at Betty Fairfax High School, was the first on Monday morning.
Ninety-nine more will follow this week.
They are the 100 high school students who are receiving full-tuition scholarships to Grand Canyon University as part of a groundbreaking Students Inspiring Students pay-it-forward initiative to improve K-12 education.
The initiative is a collaboration of GCU, the GCU Scholarship Foundation, schools and business and philanthropic leaders. But at its core, it’s about students helping students and the impact it can have in inner-city schools in Arizona.
The 100 students all received academic assistance while in high school at GCU’s Learning Lounge, a free after-school tutoring program designed to improve the skills and confidence of both under-performing students and those taking advanced-level classes. Those 100 scholarship recipients will pay it forward as college students by providing 100 hours per year of mentoring and academic support at a Learning Lounge site to assist the next group of high school students behind them.
The end result is a grass-roots, self-funded initiative that is both sustainable and scalable in which students are inspiring students.
“We’ve seen the tremendous impact that a successful college student can have on a high school student with just a few extra hours of instruction per week,” said Brian Mueller, president of GCU. “They’re getting one-on-one help and mentoring from students who have been in their shoes and know what they’re going through.”
Aziza was surprised when GCU admissions rep Ashley Hardwick and other University officials walked into her 9 a.m. classroom, purple balloons in hand, to give her the good news.
A few hours later at Maryvale High School, eight students were called into an office and handed a document by GCU admissions rep Kyle Speed. The reading of that document was followed quickly by smiles, hugs, calls to parents and many “Lopes Up” gestures from the University’s newest group of students.
Over the next three days, 10 more inner-city schools will be visited with full-tuition scholarships in hand – Bourgade Catholic, North High, Carl Hayden, Alhambra, Franklin Police & Fire High, Central, Washington, Glenview Prep, Bioscience High and Metro Tech High.
Students Inspiring Students is an expansion of GCU’s three-year-old Learning Lounge project with nearby Alhambra High School, which has had remarkable results. Alhambra, located in a diverse neighborhood filled with refugees from around the world, is a school where more than 40 languages are spoken and more than 90 percent of students fall below the federal poverty level.
When the Learning Lounge opened three years ago, Alhambra was rated a “D” school by the Arizona Department of Education based on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS). Most recently, Alhambra was nine points away from becoming a “B” school. What’s more, the number of high school graduates at Alhambra increased from 417 in 2013-14 to 536 in 2014-15; Alhambra seniors earned $2.7 million in college scholarships in 2014-15, up from $1.2 million in 2013-14; and the number of students taking advanced placement exams jumped from 174 to 302.
“Our students now feel like they have the weight of a university behind them,” Alhambra principal Claudio Coria said, “and it’s making a huge difference.”
Mueller said there is a lot of discussion about what needs to be done to improve academic achievement in K-12 schools, but very few projects are actually doing something about it. “This is a proven project that works,” Mueller added, “and it is about to explode and impact thousands of students.”
“We believe this will be truly transformational and could become a model that will be emulated nationally.”
The Students Inspiring Students full-tuition scholarships are made possible by a fundraising campaign between the Grand Canyon University Scholarship Foundation – which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit -- and local business and philanthropic leaders. At an initial fundraising event in January, $350,000 was pledged to the Foundation’s Students Inspiring Students Scholarship Fund. The university matches all Students Inspiring Students donations to the Foundation, bringing the total amount to be awarded thus far to $700,000.
The goal is to raise enough in donations to award 800 full-tuition scholarships (200 per year) to qualified high school seniors and create an education-minded inner-city community with students who are passionate, motivated and capable of succeeding in college and the workplace.
“Public schools in this neighborhood are assets, they’re not liabilities. And the kids in those schools are assets, not problems to be solved,” Mueller said. “By investing in them, the trajectory of the entire neighborhood will change.
“The good news is that this initiative requires no government help or intervention and no tax increase. It’s a way for business and philanthropic leaders to give back to their community and make a significant impact on education in Arizona.”
Bob Romantic is Executive Director of GCU's Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Contact him at 602-639-7611 or [email protected]