Going to college is a big adjustment for many young adults. No longer are they top of the food chain in their high schools, but lowly freshman once again. Friends from high school may be spread far and wide at colleges of their own. In fact, many college freshmen may not know a soul the first time they step on campus, making for a couple of rocky months ahead as they adjust to new people, new surroundings, and most likely the more intense academic requirements than what they experienced in high school.
The result—an estimated one out of three college freshmen typically don’t return to their schools for sophomore year, according to a 2010 report by ACT, the college-admission testing company based in Iowa. This is an increase from the 1960s when one in five dropped out. Some studies indicate that a considerable proportion of college dropouts come from low-income families. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education found that only 41 percent of low-income students enrolled in a four-year institution managed to graduate within five years compared to 66 percent for higher income students.
Enter The Posse Foundation, which was launched in 1989 in response to the comment of a student who recently had left college—“I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.” That simple idea of sending a group of students to college together to act as a support system for one another was the impetus for a program that today has become one of the most comprehensive college access programs in the United States. In fact, in 2010, The Posse Foundation became one of only 10 organizations selected by President Barack Obama to receive a portion of the president’s $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize award money, which he elected to donate to charitable causes.
Posse identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential that may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. Posse places these students in supportive, multicultural teams—Posses—of 10 students. Posse partner colleges and universities award Posse Scholars four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarships.
Most important, Posse Scholars graduate at a rate of 90 percent and have proven to make visible difference on campus and throughout their professional careers. So far, Posse ‘s 4,223 Scholars have won a total of $484.5 million in scholarships from Posse’s partner institutions in and around Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Miami; and New Orleans.
When Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School senior Jumaanah Flowers heard that she had been selected to join a Posse entering Minnesota’s Carleton College in in the fall, she and her parents were understandably over the moon. “We celebrated,” Flowers said. “We went out to dinner.” She chose Carleton because she wanted to remain in the Midwest, and she was attracted by the diversity the college provides. (For a full list of 2012 Posse Chicago students, click here.)
Flowers first learned about The Posse Foundation from her school counselor, Candace Almore, at the end of her junior year. “She asked if I would be interested in being nominated, and I told her I would,” she said.
Flowers was one of the 13 students nominated for the 2012 Posse Scholarship by Michele Clark’s counselors. Michele Clark has a solid track record for producing Posse Scholars, with six students winning the honor over the last several years, a feat that Almore attributes to the vision and support of the school’s principal.
Ranking number one in her senior class with a GPA of 4.5, Flowers has always done well in school—in fact, she has ranked number one in her class since her freshman year. Flowers explained that her love of learning was instilled in her by her parents from an early age. “They have always motivated me to stay on top and do my best,” she said.
In addition to maintaining her high GPA, Flowers is currently taking three Advance Placement classes (one of them in statistics, a dreaded subject for many). She also is captain of the girls’ volleyball team at her school, a member of the school’s Academic Decathlon team, a National Honor Society member, and is on the debate team.
But it wasn’t only Flowers’ stellar academic career and multiple extra-curricular activities that led Almore to nominate her for the scholarship. Her personality and character had as much, if not more, to do with it, according to Almore.
“When we talked last spring about the subjects she was thinking of taking for her senior year, Jumaanah said she wanted to take all AP classes. Even after I informed her about the rigors of taking several AP classes, she was still up for the challenge. That's what I love about Jumaanah; she doesn't take the easy way out," said Almore, who joined Michele Clark in 2009.
In addition to Flowers’ dedication and focus, Almore thought that her easy-going personality and ability to get along with different types of people made her an ideal Posse candidate. “Jumaanah is very self-assured and would excel in any environment and with any group of people. I knew that these would be important traits to have during the selection process.”
The Posse selection process, known as The Dynamic Assessment Process (DAP), is split into three phases and takes place over several months. The first phase, or DAP 1, consists of a large-group interview where approximately 100 nominees wear numbers on their backs as they are observed interacting and communicating with one another during various directed activities. Flowers recalls building a tower out of straws for one of her activities.
Based on the large-group interview, semi-finalists are chosen and asked to come back for the second phase or DAP 2. In addition to a personal interview, Flowers also had to write an essay for this phase. From these interviews, Posse chooses 20 to 25 finalists. Finalists then attend a final group interview with officials from their chosen schools. During this final interview, each Posse partner university selects a Posse from among the finalists.
Once the Posse members for each of the partner universities are chosen, the members meet together every week until just before they go off to school. Flowers’ Posse, which consists of six girls and four boys, meets every Monday. Posse members are not allowed to room together during the first year, but may thereafter.
Flowers intends to use the same system to keep focused in college that she has favored throughout high school—a monthly wall calendar on which she maps out all of her activities and school assignments. “This works for me, but I think people need to find an approach that is best for them,” said Flowers.
When asked if she thinks she received a good education from the Chicago public school system, Flowers readily responded in the affirmative. “While school environment can be an issue, a lot depends on how you handle it. There’s always an opportunity to learn, inside or outside school. I think it’s important to take advantage of every one of these opportunities. You can never go wrong with learning; it can take you places,” said Flowers.
It’s taking her to college, and, with her Posse’s support, to a very bright future.
About the school: Michele Clark’s mission is to provide a quality education for the total child, uniting to foster self-control, self-respect, self-esteem, a sense of responsibility, and an appreciation of values and the ethnic heritage of its students and others. The schools is dedicated to the challenge of supporting students in reaching their maximum potential and maintaining a positive learning environment that generates high expectations, fosters critical thinking, and respects learning styles. The vision of Michele Clark is to motivate and educate its students to become productive, responsible, global citizens who are lifelong learners. The school is located at 5101 W. Harrison St. in Chicago. See www.micheleclark.org for more information.