- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

ST. MARY'S CITY, Md. The students, more accustomed to the crowded streets of the District of Columbia than the open roads of Southern Maryland, joked about the "Amish country" rolling past their bus windows yesterday.
But when they reached their destination, the high school seniors listened intently as recruiters at St. Mary's College of Maryland piqued their interests with stories of new friendships, freedoms and, most of all, guaranteed full scholarships.
The 1,600-student state college, about a 90-minute drive southeast of the District, is offering to pick up the tab for any member of the 1995 sixth-grade class from Bruce-Monroe Elementary who can meet the admission requirements.
It's a generous gesture, though not exactly what the students had in mind six years ago. They thought a Bethesda-based charitable group called the Phoenix Foundation would send them to the university of their choice if they graduated high school.
Foundation head George Abel made that promise on the stage at their sixth-grade graduation. Now, though, he says his organization has folded, and there is no money.
In the wake of news reports about the broken promise, a few colleges, such as Spalding University in Louisville, have stepped in to help the teen-agers. St. Mary's College is the only institution, however, to offer a full tuition scholarship.
That's a deal worth $6,285 a year for every one of these city-savvy students who can adjust to the country-quiet environs at St. Mary's.
"As you boarded the bus and you left Washington, D.C., and you got to the Beltway, something happened. Right? " Michael Freeman, St. Mary's College vice president, asked the laughing youngsters.
"There were no stores, and then you started seeing farmland, and there's horses, and you started asking yourself, 'Where am I going?' Right? " he said. "That's the same experience I had when I came here originally in 1984."
The high school students some dressed in puffy jackets and baseball caps looked a bit wide-eyed as they maneuvered around the dining hall and strolled through the art education building on the campus that college President Jane Margaret O'Brien called "one of the most beautiful in America."
College student Robert White, an alumnus of Archbishop Carroll High School in the District and one of four hip enrollees chosen to lead tours, assured his prospective classmates the waterfront campus is diverse, curfews are nonexistent and the ride home on weekends isn't that long.
Besides, he said, "there are parties you can go to on the weekend."
Sixty-three students graduated from Bruce-Monroe in 1995. Of that group, 42 are expected to graduate high school at various D.C. schools, said Gwendolyn Hoover, a guidance counselor at Cardozo High School. Twenty of those 42 visited St. Mary's College to learn more about the offer.
Cardozo senior Lawrence Washington, without hesitation, said he wants to study there, if admitted.
Frederick Smith of Eastern High School also sounded eager to head from Northeast Washington to St. Mary's City.
"I really need help to go to college," he said of the Phoenix Foundation promise. "I was counting on it."
Joseph Gathers, 17, from Bell Multicultural School is considering the St. Mary's offer, but is holding out for a partial scholarship to Harvard.
"I held up my end of the bargain," said Joseph, who also attended the Duke Ellington School for the Arts.
Parents first learned about the broken promise about a month ago when a concerned mother approached Cardozo Principal Reginald C. Ballard Jr. He had not heard of the Phoenix Foundation but looked into the matter.
Mr. Abel "said he tried," Mr. Ballard said.
"I thought it was unusual that he was looking to get money from different places," Mr. Ballard said. "Usually groups have money already set aside in an investment."
A Bruce-Monroe Task Force workshop will convene next month, bringing together regional college counselors with students and their families to provide help in seeking placement and financial aid.

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