Alexandria in Action: New beginnings

Alexandria in Action: New beginnings
John Porter

June is a month of new beginnings. In addition to signaling the start of summer, June is filled with weddings and graduations — new beginnings for sure.

While many private schools have already graduated the class of 2017, local public school systems and several other private schools will be sending their seniors off to the next big opportunity in their lives over the next few weeks. Closest to home, T. C. Williams High School will be graduating more than 700 seniors on June 17. If this year is like last, approximately 85 percent of these students will be continuing their education in the fall — a remarkable figure.

For many students, the application and acceptance process has been relatively easy although the competition for select colleges and universities has become much more intense over years past. At the end of the process, most students find a school that is the right fit for them relative to what they wish to study and do in their lives.

The focus then switches to the much more difficult part of the equation – how to pay for this extremely important and costly next phase of their lives. For some this is not an issue, but for others it is a major one. And even if paying for the initial year(s) is figured out, sustaining the amount of money needed to complete a degree can be daunting.

We are extremely blessed, in Alexandria, to have a very concerned and caring citizenry which wants to assist others in need, including helping to fund post-secondary educational opportunities. ACT for Alexandria hosts a couple of scholarship funds established for this specific purpose, as do several other local organizations and businesses. However, Alexandria City Public School students have something many other students across the country don’t have — the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria.

In 1985, a small group of like-minded community leaders came together to determine what might be done to assist T.C. Williams High School students fund their post-secondary education plans. They understood that for many students attending Alexandria’s only public high school, the cost of college could be a major obstacle.

With a financial commitment of $25,000 from city council and additional support from ACPS, the SFA launched in 1986. Slightly less than $10,000 was granted in scholarships that first year but this new and exciting endeavor was envisioned as being able to assist countless students for years to come.

Thirty-one years later, SFA has certainly exceeded the expectations of many who were part of its humble beginnings. From providing “last dollar” scholarship support in the early years to awarding renewals starting in 1991, the Fund has been an extremely valuable partner for students and families. Since its inception, SFA has awarded more than $13 million to 4,300 students.

In addition to direct financial support, the Fund assists students in determining other sources of funds, both public and private, for which they may be eligible. For example, the workshops and individual sessions on completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form have provided many with the expert guidance needed to successfully complete the application process and thus be more competitive in finding additional opportunities.

The 2017 Scholarship Fund Awards program took place last week with 154 students being awarded $410,000 from the Fund for their first year of college. As with previous years, those attending the program marveled at the diversity of the recipients and the schools they would be attending.

According to SFA executive director, Beth Lovain, “Typically at least 80 percent of the scholarships are for students with financial need… with approximately half of this year’s recipients being the first in their family to attend college.” Thus, these awards, coupled with other funds granted through SFA guided support, will allow these students to attend college in the fall without the worry of not being able to complete the year due to inability to pay.

As a former educator, I can’t stress enough the difference such support makes for students, families and, in the long run, our community.   As we send off the class of 2017, I toss my mortar board in the air for all who help support educational opportunities for deserving students, whether through giving to organizations like the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria or other such vehicles.  

You are truly making a difference in the lives of others.