Thanks to concerned mother and girl power advocate Jacqueline Glass, for the past six years minority girls between the ages of 13-18 from low-income communities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Pennsylvania have been afforded the priceless opportunity to attend a two-week program, at Princeton University no less, designed to build leadership skills and promote college readiness.
One of the only summer institutes for minority teen girls to be held on an Ivy League campus, the At the Well Young Womens Leadership Academy offers dynamic speakers, standardized test-taking strategies, critical reading courses, college essay writing classes, tutoring, group activities, and field trips.
Whats more, the Academy provides on-campus housing, so that the girls can experience campus living. Born out of At the Well Conferences Inc., the Academy will take place this year from July 24-August 5.
In a recent interview, Glass, who holds a masters degree in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and is currently a court reporter for the Manhattan District Court, said the idea to launch At the Well came out of watching her teenage daughter struggle with the SAT exam in 2009.
Currently, my daughter is a senior at Rutgers University. But back then she was having difficulty with the SAT exam. Shes very bright and very intelligent, but she does not test well on standardized exams. When we started At the Well, the focus was on building self-esteem and empowering women of color, but I wanted to include an SAT prep class after seeing my daughter deal with SAT problems. We feel that its important to teach the girls that these tests are used to both include and exclude students. Its not an indicator of intelligence, but they have to do well, shares Glass.
Also, some of the students may not fully have the encouragement they need to be at a private school or in an Advanced Placement class. We build up their sense of self and let them know that there is a place for them if they work hard, she adds.
Since the 2011 launch of the Academy, the program has consistently grown. When we launched, there were 32 girls in attendance at Princeton University. In 2013, there were 76; in 2014, there were 75; and last year, we intentionally lowered our number to 50 to make it more manageable. We grew in numbers, stature and attendance in a short time, notes Glass.
In addition to the Academy, At the Well conducts free yearly conferences where they try to reach inner city girls. This year, the conferences focus is on entrepreneurship. There will be members of the community present to encourage girls to work for themselves. So far, Lisa Ascolese who is an inventor with QVC and has a show coming out called the Inventress is booked. She will share the idea that there is an inventor in all of us. Yandy Smith, from VH1s Love & Hip-Hop New York, will also be on-hand to talk about how internships can help with career moves; and ABC TV producer Tracy Washington Bagley, who is a producer on Here and Now, is signed on as well. She will talk to the girls about a career in television.
Past supporters have included husband and wife actors Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker, Jasmine Guy, Brian White, as well as, Brandi Harvey, Executive Director of the Steve Harvey Foundation, Princeton University professor Dr. Imani Perry, and Rutgers University professor Dr. Brittney Cooper.
Says Glass, We do the conference every year. This year, it will take place in April and we are inviting groups of students who have attended our workshops in the past.
She continues, The Academy and the conferences are At the Wells main functions. We have been growing and the word is getting around. At the Well is a national program and we get applications from all over the world from California to Hawaii. In 2013, we received 12 students from Jamaica via the Jamaican embassy. This year, weve even had interest from South Africa.
Here, Glass tells us more about At the Well Inc.
TNJ.com: What are some of the challenges youve dealt with in keeping the program going?
Jacqueline Glass: The biggest challenge has been getting the financial support from foundations and funders. There are parents who can afford to write a check for their kids to attend, but we want to be known as an organization that reaches out to those gifted and talented girls who cannot afford the program. When we started out we had one funder: the Fish Foundation. That funder allowed us to offer students from $1,000 to $1,500 to attend the program.
We are priced very low in comparison to other programs, but $2,500 is still a lot of money for families that have a low-to-moderate income. We want to raise money for students to attend.
The mother of one of our star students was disabled and had an annual income of $5,000. Before the program, the student was looking at only state colleges in New York. But after attending the program, her top schools were Brown University and Princeton. So our biggest challenge is financial; its having enough money for scholarships to include brilliant, smart girls who have great potential but dont have the financial means to be there.
TNJ.com: Any plans for expansion?
J.G.: This year, we have been in negotiations to expand the program to Swarthmore College, a highly-rated liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. Rated number three in the country, its a very socially conscious college and it has an African American president, Dr. Valerie Smith. They have an interest in us being on campus and we have an interest in being there. Since we received so many applications this year, triple the normal application pool, we are looking at offering the overflow of girls the opportunity to attend the Swarthmore program. So the girls who dont make it into the Princeton program can attend the inaugural Swarthmore program, which will serve as a second session to take place from July 10 thru July 22.
TNJ.com: How do you recruit teachers?
J.G.: Our teaching staff is a wonderful part of our program. The positions are paid positions and we look for graduate students and regular teachers to come on board and teach. Also, we have a staff of counselors. Currently, two are in medical school. They have been our counselors year after year coming back to give back. So we look at our counselors and former students who graduate from the program who have a vested interest in the program. We seek out teachers who want to be impactful and make a difference. Now, we are at the point where teachers are reaching out to us.
TNJ.com: Are there any future goals on the horizon?
J.G.: Currently, 100 percent of our girls attend 4-year colleges. We do the best we can to work with them when theyre in the 11th grade and get them ready for applying for scholarships and really be college-ready for senior year. So, we want to continue telling girls how to go after scholarships and financial aid and position themselves to get scholarships to 4-year colleges. One of our success stories was a young lady who received $65,000 in scholarships and a full ride to Spelman College.