AHC Inc. has gone 31-for-31: All high-school seniors taking part in its College and Career-Readiness Program (CCR) this past academic year will be attending college across the country, sharing in $3 million of scholarship funding.
To celebrate students’ achievements, the non-profit housing provider on May 15 held a signing-day ceremony at the Charles Rinker Community Center at the Gates of Ballston apartment complex. Garbed in sweatshirts of their future academic homes, they were able to reflect on their journey and thank those who aided along the way.
“The CCR program helped me a lot – particularly navigating the college process, résumé-building and things like that,” said Mahia Rahmen, who is headed to Harvard backed by a number of academic scholarships.
Rahmen is the first in her family to attend college, and aims to study computer science and social justice. “I’m looking forward to a new beginning and creating valuable life-long friendships,” she said.
The CCR program aims to help high-school juniors and seniors making the transition to the next part of their lives. They are paired with adult mentors for two years.
Esmerelda Matthews, who has lived with her family at AHC’s Virginia Gardens apartment community her entire life, was paired with Jean Falvey.
“I had no idea what to do,” Matthews said of the challenges of her last years of high school and her next steps. “I asked my mentor many, many questions, and I thank her for answering every single one of them.”
Collectively, the 31 high-achieving students applied to 195 institutions of higher education, and were accepted to 119. They bring to 127 students (124 of them the first in their family to attend college) who have participated in the program since its beginning in the fall of 2016.
Gabriela Juarez was paired with a mentor also named Gabriela – Gabriela Segovia, who also serves as the CCR manager for AHC Inc.
“She was great,” Juarez said. “She helped me apply and figure out what I wanted to do.”
Juarez is headed to Virginia Commonwealth University (coincidentally, also the alma mater of Segovia), and plans to study art education.
Like students around the country – perhaps much more than most – Arlington’s youth have felt the stresses of 15 months of pandemic lockdown, which brought in-person classes to a standstill.
“It was rough for me emotionally, because I didn’t get to see my friends,” said Jo (Christina) Lin, who will be attending James Madison University on a full scholarship.
The CCR program “helped a lot” to bridge the gap during the pandemic period, Lin said.
Elena Ogbe, who is headed to James Madison University, said the pandemic “caused me to learn a lot about myself.”
“There was time for a lot of self-reflection,” she said. “On the negative side, I was impacted by losing motivation. I’m grateful to CCR and the Fort Henry Community Center for guiding me through this time – they helped me through one of the hardest times of my life and helped me persevere.”
The pandemic forced Bill Soronzonbold to become the primary caregiver to his younger brothers while his parents – immigrants from Mongolia – went to work. All that while balancing his schoolwork, tutoring algebra, helping to create a computer-science support system for middle-schoolers and serving as a captain of the Washington-Liberty High School track team.
Soronzonbold thanked his tutor, Jean Sweeney, who “helped me a lot.”
“I don’t think I would have gotten into any of the schools without her help,” said Soronzonbold, who will be attending Tufts University.
Seeing the impact of the COVID crisis motivated Abel Geleta, who will be attending Yale University with aspirations of studying science and economics.
“I’d like to be a change agent,” he said. “We’re the next generation; we need to be community-minded.”
Plans for the CCR program down the road include initiating conversations about their future with students as early as fifth grade, incorporating the program into existing after-school and teen-tutoring programs.
“It is critical that each student have a role model and someone they can look up to as a support system,” said AHC’s Celia Slater. “It is also important for us to continue supporting students in building their network and connections, as that is a true skill that will serve them in the long run.”
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