PHOENIX -- In a groundbreaking program designed to raise academic achievement at Arizona schools, Grand Canyon University will award 100 inner-city high school seniors full-tuition scholarships at a special ceremony at 5 p.m. April 19 on its west Phoenix campus.
The Students Inspiring Students Scholarship program is a collaboration among Grand Canyon University, the GCU Scholarship Foundation, schools, and business and philanthropic leaders to improve K-12 education.
"But at its core, it's about students helping students and the impact it can have at inner-city schools in our state," said Joe Veres, the university's director of K-12 outreach.
The 100 scholarship recipients received academic assistance while in high school at GCU's Learning Lounge, a free after-school tutoring program designed to improve the skills and confidence of underperforming students as well as those taking advanced-level classes. Now, the scholarship recipients will pay it forward as college students by providing 100 hours per year of mentoring and academic support at a Learning Lounge site to assist the next group of high school students behind them.
The result is a grass-roots, self-funded initiative that is both sustainable and scalable in which students are inspiring students, according to Brian Mueller, GCU's president.
"We have seen the tremendous impact that a successful college student can have on a high school student with just a few extra hours of instruction per week," Mueller said. "They're getting one-on-one help and mentoring from students who have been in their shoes."
Now in its second year, the Students Inspiring Students initiative is an expansion of GCU's four-year-old Learning Lounge project with nearby Alhambra High School, which has achieved remarkable results. Alhambra High, located in a diverse neighborhood of refugees from around the world, is a school where more than 40 languages are spoken and more than 90 percent of students fall below the federal poverty level.
When the Learning Lounge opened, Alhambra was rated a D-rated school by the Arizona Department of Education based on its students' showing on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS). Most recently, Alhambra was nine points away from being a "B" school. Further, the Learning Lounge program is now benefitting students from 55 K-12 schools in the Phoenix area.
"There is a lot of discussion about what needs to be done to improve academic achievement in K-12 schools, but very few projects that are actually doing something about it," Mueller said. "We believe this will be truly transformational and could become a model that will be emulated nationally."
The Students Inspiring Students full-tuition scholarships are made possible by a fundraising campaign between the Grand Canyon University Scholarship Foundation – which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit -- and local business and philanthropic leaders. At a fundraising event in December, $350,000 was pledged to the Foundation's Students Inspiring Students Scholarship Fund. The university matches all Students Inspiring Students donations to the Foundation, bringing the total amount to be awarded this year to $700,000.
The goal is to raise enough in donations to award 800 full-tuition scholarships (200 per year) to qualified high school seniors and create an education-minded inner-city community with students who are passionate, motivated and capable of succeeding in college and the workplace.
"K-12 schools in this neighborhood are assets, not liabilities. And the kids in those schools are assets, not problems to be solved," Mueller said. "By investing in them, the trajectory of the entire neighborhood will change.
"The good news is that this initiative requires no government help or intervention and no tax increase. It's a way for business and philanthropic leaders to partner with inner-city schools, give back to their community and make a significant impact on education in Arizona."