Arthena Sewell Roper, Cultural Diversity Facilitator for Jefferson County Schools, recently announced the development of an initiative called the Re-Imagine Scholarship—a life-skill enrichment project involving students from both Jefferson and Washington High Schools.

Ultimately, the project focuses on the life skills areas of: cultural awareness, networking, team building, and financial literacy—serving as an opportunity for students to earn money for college or their own business.

“We have a program here at Jefferson County Schools called the West Virginia Achievement Project, which is in its ninth year,” said Roper. “It includes students who traditionally have not been in AP or honors classes.”

In the past, these students have been mostly minority, low-income students, who had the potential to take more rigorous courses, but had chosen not to for various reasons. “We’ve been working to help them prepare for upper-level classes, job opportunities, and college. But this year, I wanted to do something different,” Roper added. “Personally, I have a son who is a freshman in college, and I was a little frustrated with the scholarship process overall when he was applying. There are a ton of scholarships at the high schools, and the counselors put out this list, and students can literally click on the link and see if they meet the criteria, and then apply for it.”

But during graduation(s) and awards ceremonies over the years, Roper noticed that she ended up hearing the same handful of names. So she thought to herself, maybe there’s a way to reimagine the path to scholarship for kids that are traditionally underrepresented in upper-level classes, or socio-economically underserved in general.

“By the time most of these kids are seniors—and that list comes out around December of their senior year (with GPA and SAT/ACT scores all factoring in)—if you just decided to get yourself together in that last year, then the window is almost shut on scholarship opportunities.”

In response, Roper and her team put together a plan this year to partner with United Bank (Charles Town) and create an endeavor whereby students within the Achievement Program could sign up for an additional program (the Re-Imagine Scholarship) that would have them opening a bank account and depositing money regularly as a way to start saving for college, gaining financial literacy, and investing in themselves. And United Bank has agreed to match whatever the students deposit, up to a certain amount.

“Financial literacy is part of the curriculum within the Re-Imagine program, and we want them to deposit their own money into their account(s) at least once every sixty days,” she explained. “Even if it’s just ten dollars … bank account ownership is a big thing—and the responsibility of investing in yourself is an idea we want to cultivate with the program.”

If the students decide not to seek higher education, that money (which they can’t touch until they’re seniors) is there for them—especially if they want to start their own business. An effective program at any age, one can also imagine how impactful this initiative could be for a senior who’s been involved in it since his/her freshman year.

Obviously in its beginning stages, the Re-Imagine endeavor will grow and evolve as Roper establishes more partnerships, receives greater collaboration from community members, and attracts more students to the program. Having met five times already this year, the group has two more Sunday meetings this month—where they will continue to explore the development of a Kickstarter campaign to raise even more funds (the video will be up in May).

“We want to help young people to recognize opportunity, and go after it,” emphasized Roper. “Especially for kids who already show the academic standing, but might be underserved and struggling socio-economically—who’ve maybe grown up thinking they will never go to college because no one they know ever has—this allows them to reimagine that.”

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