As they accepted their high school diplomas last month, CPS seniors had much to be proud of, including the fact that their class had been offered an unprecedented number of scholarships.
With nearly $400 million in scholarship offers, the Class of 2013 surpassed their most recent predecessor by $133 million. Students received academic, athletic, organizational, talent, and need-based scholarships that will take them to colleges and universities from the Midwest to the Ivy League.
"Too often the price of college is a barrier for entry to deserving and motivated youth," said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. "These scholarship dollars will remove the financial barrier facing many of our students today and put them on a path to a brighter future."
Ashley Posey, who graduated from Kenwood Career Academy in 2013, was one of 35 CPS students to receive a Gates Scholarship, which covers all college costs and eliminates the need for any student loans.
"I feel so blessed," said Ashley, who will attend Aurora University this fall to study Nursing. "This scholarship will let me do what I've always wanted, which is to help people through the medical field."
Ashley's family was thrilled to see her hard work in high school pay off, especially her mother and younger sisters.
"My mom is so excited and so happy," said Ashley. "She wants my two little sisters to see this as an example of what can happen for them if they do well in school."
Araceli Gelacio, who graduated from Curie High School, received several financial awards, including the Golden Apple Scholarship – an honor coveted by all would-be teachers.
"I'm so excited to be a Golden Apple winner," said Araceli. "I didn't get any government aid for college, so without this scholarship, I wouldn't have been able to attend the school I wanted."
That school is Lake Forrest College, where Araceli will study to become a primary school teacher.
"My third-grade teacher is the one who inspired me to go into education," she said. "His way of teaching was really unique, and he was so patient and had such a good attitude. It made me want to become a teacher and give back to my community in that way."
This is a familiar passion for Araceli, who was active in many community service organizations during her years at Curie, including Build On, a nonprofit that conducts Saturday service projects in her neighborhood.
"My community has been a big part of my success," she said. "I think it's important to give back, especially to those who haven't been as lucky as me."
CPS' influx of scholarship dollars is due in large part to the coordinated efforts of high school counselors, college and career specialists, teachers, principals and community partners.
"It's our job to consistently communicate scholarship opportunities to our students and their families," said Marcia Boyd, Scholarship Coordinator for CPS. "We need to let them know what's out there and help them figure out the process."
Toward that end, CPS issues monthly scholarship alerts, hosts biannual scholarship seminars, and presents workshops on financial literacy, including the complexities of the FAFSA form, which has reached an impressive 90 percent completion rate within the district.
"This year's scholarship awards represent a tremendous achievement for our students and their support networks, including their families, teachers and counselors," said CEO Byrd-Bennett. "All of them have worked tirelessly to make the dream of a college education possible."