Narraguagus and Sumner Memorial high school students in the college readiness program participate in an overnight retreat held at the College of the Atlantic. PHOTO COURTESY OF MAINE SEACOAST MISSION

Rural kids offered shot at free tuition



HARRINGTON — High school students enrolled in a recently implemented college prep program have a good chance of earning a full ride to college.

The Maine Seacoast Mission recently announced the establishment of the Davis Maine Scholarship, a full, four-year scholarship for rural, first-generation college students from Washington and eastern Hancock counties.

The scholarship is funded by the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund and supported by three partner colleges — the University of New England in Biddeford, Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., and Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said Christina Griffith, scholarship director for the Maine Seacoast Mission. It covers everything.

“It’s direct costs, it’s indirect costs, it’s books, it’s costs for families to visit,” she said.

The scholarship opportunity builds on the college readiness program that began at Narraguagus and Sumner Memorial high schools in September. Although the programs are technically separate, students must participate in the college readiness initiative in order to apply for the Davis Scholarship. The readiness program is open to students at either high school who would be among the first generation from their family to graduate from a four-year college.

“We’re not trying to replace what the high schools are doing. We’re working collaboratively with them as partners,” said Griffith, adding she hopes to include other schools in the future. The initiative began with Sumner and Narraguagus because the schools already have strong ties with the Maine Seacoast Mission.

Participants apply for the readiness program during their freshman year in high school and remain in it throughout their high school careers. Six sophomores from each of the two high schools are currently enrolled in this year’s inaugural group. Over the next three years, participating students will go on an annual overnight retreat, participate in monthly workshops and visit college campuses. Ongoing support and incentives will be provided and families will be included.

A year from now, when they are juniors, students in the readiness program will have the opportunity to apply for Davis Scholarships, with those selected being announced in November 2020. The scholarships will be for attendance at one of the three partner colleges. Griffith said the plan is to award six scholarships — to three students from each high school. Part of the reason multiple awards will be given is that research indicates first-generation rural students have a better chance of success if they are able to attend college with someone from a similar background.

“There’s very high expectations, specifically that they graduate in four years,” she said.

Those participating in the readiness program are not required to apply for the Davis Scholarship or attend college at all, Griffith said. Instead, their participation is designed to help give them the tools they need to pursue college if desired and to make informed choices about their futures.

The partner colleges were selected because of their commitment to first-generation rural students, which has been demonstrated through freshman retention and orientations, graduation rates and ongoing support geared specifically for them.

“They understand there’s a difference between an urban first-generation student and a rural first-generation student,” Griffith said.

The colleges also were selected in part based on their locations. Griffith wanted institutions that were far away enough to allow students to venture out on their own and close enough to make travel home relatively easy.

“The passion I feel for our college partners is very exciting,” she said.

Griffith said the readiness and scholarship programs do not aim to change participants, their families or their culture but rather to build on individual strengths, such as a sense of community and family tradition.

“That’s really important, that we start with the strengths of the communities we serve,” she said.

Many of the students involved in the college readiness program say they want to return after college graduation to serve their communities, though that is not a requirement.

“We all are very mindful of the impact these kinds of opportunities can have in families and in communities more broadly,” she said.

The development of the Davis Scholarship took about a year and began after Andrew Davis of the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund attended a Maine Seacoast Mission gala. He visited again later and became involved because he was impressed with the mission’s programs and the opportunities they offered to local students, said Griffith.

“This is a remarkable opportunity for deserving Downeast high school scholars,” said Davis. “We are creating this scholarship for students who excel in their studies, persist through hardship and will be among the first members of their families to go to college. I very much look forward to supporting our college and high school partners on behalf these exceptional young people. It is extremely exciting to play a role in showing the world what Downeast students can achieve.”

Correction: The name of the charitable fund sponsoring the scholarships was misspelled on second reference. It is the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund.

Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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