From Kindergarten to a Bachelor’s Degree: Widener Partnership Charter School Alumni Access Generous Scholarships and Become University Graduates
The 2022 Widener commencement marks a historic first for a group of graduates who exemplify what it means to be part of the university family.
When Aqeel Collins, Jada Cottman, and Cire Holmes began their studies as freshmen, they entered as alumni of the Widener Partnership Charter School, a K-8 school launched by the university in 2006 that’s located just a block from campus. Under a promise made by Widener, announced when they were among the first class to complete eighth grade and be promoted out of the school, any Widener Partnership Charter School alumni who meets admission requirements to the university is automatically eligible for a minimum $100,000 scholarship.
Collins, Cottman and Holmes took advantage of the scholarship and other university financial and academic support and earned their bachelor’s degrees at Widener.
“I feel accomplished. It was a blessing,” Cottman said. “I’m pretty much graduating college debt free, so I’m definitely grateful.”
At least three more charter school alumni – Asia McDonald, Destiny Barnes, and Ja’miyah Bowman-Curry – are on course to complete their studies by the end of the calendar year. They too, were part of that first class of charter school students eligible for the scholarship funding. In addition to the financial aid, students said having peers they’ve known since childhood alongside them at the university provided valuable support.
“I’m blessed to be able to start and finish with them. They’re like sisters and brothers,” Barnes said. “We’ve been here from the beginning and now we’re walking out together at the end. We’re very lucky.”
Four Widener Partnership Charter School alumni have followed in their footsteps and are in the process of pursing their degrees.
“We are so excited to see these students graduate,” Widener President Julie Wollman said. “They are such a point of pride because we nurtured them through their elementary and middle school years and watched as they headed off to high school. They worked hard to meet our rigorous standards for admission and we welcomed them back home for four more years of study at the university level. Now it is time to celebrate all they have accomplished and all the good they will do in the world.”
Cottman entered the university with a goal of becoming a pediatrician, but after deciding the necessary chemistry coursework wasn’t for her, she turned to psychology. She thinks she’ll work for a while after graduation and then pursue a long-term goal of a career in speech-language pathology, inspired by her non-verbal autistic cousin.
“She could be verbal if she got the help she needed. That inspired me to want to help kids like her,” Cottman said.
Collins is currently interviewing, on the hunt for a marketing position. He pursued a business administration bachelor’s degree because he liked the creativity that comes with marketing promotional work. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in a few years, after getting some employment experience. Widener’s support was a helpful advantage, he said.
“I’m just really glad I got this opportunity,” Collins said.
Holmes has also earned a degree in business administration. She is looking for a management training position, because she likes to lead. She hopes to one day own her own business.
“It feels amazing. It feels so great. I loved the experience. The professors were all very, very nice. They want to see you win,” she said. “I’m just happy for what’s next.”
Bowman-Curry is pursuing a teaching degree and is looking to complete her studies in June. Like Barnes and McDonald, she plans to walk in the May 2023 commencement ceremony. She said she had known she wanted to come to Widener since her pre-teen years, when she attended a summer camp at the university.
“The resources here for me were a big help,” she said. “I feel very lucky.”
McDonald came into the university thinking she would get a nursing degree, but ended up changing her major to psychology. She’s still thinking about the possibility of coming back for Widener’s accelerated nursing program, to possibly support a career as a psychiatric nurse. Having the schoolmates from her youngest years nearby has been motivational, she said, particularly when it was difficult to get out of bed for an early-morning class.
“We had each other to lean on if we maybe began to feel discouraged, or we just didn’t want to do it. We lifted each other up and that has been a great help,” McDonald said. “Widener is like home. It’s like family.”
Barnes, who like Bowman-Curry, is planning to be a teacher, said Widener’s scholarship definitely helped – but so too did the sacrifices her family, and families of her charter school peers, made to put them all on the inside track to success with a university degree.
“Not everyone is able to have that opportunity,” Barnes said. “We are blessed.”