In an unassuming office above the old Ninth Street Bookshop on Market, Dr. Tony Alleyne and Jake Myers mentor high school kids who intend to become the people in their family to go to college as part of the nonprofit Delaware College Scholars. We sat down with Dr. Alleyne, Jake, and student Jean Filo, who’s just about at the end of four years at the University of Delaware, and started by asking about what inspired Dr. Alleyne to start the program…
Dr. Alleyne: I went to public school in New York City until 7th grade, when I got into a program called Prep for Prep, which showed me how to other half lives. It was all about preparing you to go to a private school or a private boarding school. In 8th grade, I left New York for St. Andrew’s School in Middletown. So I saw what public school life was like, and then I saw what an elite boarding school education was like. It’s two different worlds. And I never thought it was fair. I vividly remember people I classmates with in 7th = grade who didn’t have the opportunity, and I saw where their path led, and I saw where my path led.
I feel that all my Scholars are capable, but sometimes they’re just unaware. But as soon as you shine the light on how the game is played, my scholars are going to kick down the door.
Jean: My counselor said I should apply to this. I don’t know what it was, but sure, what’s one more application? I was a sophomore in high school, and I had just moved to America, with my family, from Syria.
I met so many students who were in the same boat as me. I would not have studied for the SATs if it wasn’t for the program, just because I wasn’t going to get a course like some other people could afford, and I had to so many other things on my mind, family stuff, that I was not going to carve out time. But if I look back, the most important thing was having Jake and Dr. Alleyne. They celebrate my successes and helped me think through the challenges that I continue to face in college.
I wanted to study something in the sciences. I ended up in biology.
Jake: We do have a lot of students who go in saying “I want to be a doctor. I want to be a doctor.” And you realize that’s what they think makes a lot of money, which is true, but also what their parents want them to do. And then when they get to college and they start taking a wide variety of classes, they start to understand they’re actually interested in English or music or whatever.
Jean: I added business. So I’m a business minor now and I’m the president of the entrepreneurship club at the University of Delaware. That’s not something that I expected going to college.
Jake: And he’s getting accepted into medical school. He’s too humble to say it. So I’ll boost him up.
Jean: The freedom that you have in college was something that I didn’t expect. I got a little taste of it at DCS, but it’s still different when you’re actually by yourself. Just simple decisions, like what do you actually wake up if you have class at 3 p.m.? Do you wake up at 2 p.m.? Now I wake up at 5 a.m. every day just to make it simple and easy.
Dr. Alleyne: In Cohort Six, our current cohort of juniors, we have about 62 students. We’re currently recruiting for Cohort Seven. We’re getting 300 applications a year now, and we’re going to be able to accept upwards of 100 students every year.
Two years ago, we had an opportunity to get an office here on Market Street. We’re now closer to where many of our students are. We’re connected all 19 school districts — last year, we had students from 18 different districts and six different charter schools — but a good 60% come from the Wilmington/New Castle area. So students who need support have a place they can come and get some work done.
Jean: It’s such a big opportunity. Coming from Syria, I feel responsible to show people from my country, or other first-generation immigrants, what you can do with what you have here. I organized a campus tour of the University of Delaware and people really appreciated it. I had 50 students show up. It was difficult — I felt so responsible for all of them! — but it worked out and they liked it.
Jake: Of our first cohort of 32, 24 or on track to graduate in four years, and then another two will are on track to graduate in five. And then we have a few who are just in the real world, working.
Dr. Alleyne: It’s as kind of like we’re a best-kept secret. We’re not out on top of every rooftop yelling about it, but I’m proud of the work that we’re doing. We’re just now pulling together a report to show what we’re doing, what students are majoring in, what they’re doing post-college, and how that trickles back into the Delaware community.
Jean: You can plan your future all you want in high school, but it’s only when you get to college that it feels real. And now that I’m applying to medical school, it feels even more real. The freedom to plan my future and knowing that I can actually do it because I’m here, I’m in college, I survived three years so far and I’m about to survive the fourth one — it feels real, finally.
This post appears courtesy of New Market Wilm.