An education expressway


Hundreds of sveltely dressed high school students and graduates entered Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria Saturday for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities College Festival.

It was an informational endeavor for some, but for others, who left with a college acceptance letter, it was transformational.

The fair, in its sixth year, aimed to create awareness among high school students especially from the African-American community of the range of college opportunities available. Those who pre-registered could actually interview on-sight and get accepted, a unique opportunity at a time when most seniors fret the arrival of a watermarked envelope determining the next four years of their life.

If you want to go to school, well find a way to get you into a school, Alfred Street Church Rev. Edward Jackson said. If we get to the students early enough, theyll have the desire to learn not just in the city, but the world too.

Some schools waved application fees, making the process more accessible, and Jackson said the convenience of on-sight interviews acquaints students with the college application process. Not that these are the only schools available, but its about exposing them to the possibility, he said.

After interviewing with a recruiter, Cindy Salinas, a TC Williams graduate, was accepted to Norfolk State and Bowie State. Its so convenient to be accepted on the spot, she said. Salinas, who recently finished her associates degree at Northern Virginia Community College, said she wants to major in social work.

Three TC students gained on-sight acceptance last year, according to Kim Blake-Wilcox, an English Teacher at Minnie Howard Ninth Grade Center. The fair is to create awareness that other things are available to these kids, she said.

Financial aid, scholarship opportunities and seminars for parents and student athletes were also offered Saturday. Even voter registration was available for those interested.

Jonathan Hanna, a senior from South County Secondary School in Fairfax, had just been accepted to Atlantas Clark University before sitting down minutes later to interview with a Hampton University recruiter. Ive found [this fair] has a lot to offer, and not just to black kids either, he said. Its a prevalently diverse area and theres a lot of money for students who arent financially able.

An estimated 1,500 students, recruiters and volunteers attended the festival, compared to the 150 inaugural attendees in 2003. Students from the DC metro area strolled the halls alongside their counterparts from up and down the East coast. Students from as far away as Alaska registered for the event, according to one recruiter.

The initiative was started by a small group of Alfred Street church members many are alumni from HBCU institutions and has grown each year. Vance Davis, a founding member and current festival chairperson, said the festival was a success but noted it is up to the students to continue what they start. Our goal was to get as many young people into HBCU as possible, she said. And this isnt the end. We want them to matriculate.

Davis then greeted Quinten Tarver in the college networking room, and put a boasting arm around him. Tarver first came to the fair when he was in ninth grade, accompanying his older sister. I used to be here asleep when I was younger, he said.

But Tarver now speaks from the other side of the recruitment desk. He was accepted to Virginia State University two years ago at this very same festival, and now majors in electrical engineering as a sophomore.

He is no longer sleeping.