Sixth-grader Samone Grant is an A student at Hart Middle School in the District who dreams of attending a prestigious university when she graduates in five years.
Aziza Tichavakunda, 16, is getting straight A’s in her college-prep curriculum at Benjamin Banneker High and also has set her sights on attending a top university.
Both girls have a better chance of realizing their dreams - no small feat in a city whose long-troubled school system has left too many young people illiterate and ill-prepared for college - because of a program founded by Dr. Ben Carson and his wife, Candy, in 1994.
The Carson Scholars Fund helps defer the costs of college for students who maintain a 3.75 GPA and meet other qualifications, including the kind of civic mindedness exhibited by Aziza - editor of the school newspaper; co-founder of Banneker’s Recycling Club; a tutor for Tifereth Israel Congregation and Banneker; a candy striper at Howard University Hospital; and a writer for the Shepherd Park neighborhood newsletter.
But unlike other scholarship programs, the Carson Scholars Fund grants its awards to students as early as the fourth grade, providing a promise and inspiration that can help sustain the students through the trials and temptations of their teenage years.
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“Kids at that age seem to understand what they are doing has a profound effect on their future,” Dr. Carson said of his youngest scholarship recipients, who range up to the 11th grade.
“The reason we started the scholarship is there was a survey in the early ‘90s. … In math and science, [the United States] ranked 21 out of 22,” Dr. Carson said. He and Candy visited “a lot of schools and saw all these trophies dealing with sports, but very little dealing with academics.”
The nonprofit they founded gives trophies to its winners, too. But the winner also receives a $1,000 college scholarship which is invested on their behalf, to be paid out with all the interest it has earned when they are ready to go to college.
Located in 26 states and the District of Columbia, Carson Scholars handed out 600 scholarships in 2008 alone.
Samone’s mother, Donita Jackson, said the scholarship already has her daughter thinking about where she wants to attend college.
“Howard University,” Ms. Jackson said. But at her age, “she changes her mind so much.”