Nine years later, promised $10K for graduates arrivesby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Tina Lucht says she always planned to attend college.
"I wanted to be a lawyer, I thought it was cool and my dad was like 'you're going to make a lot of money.' and I watched a lot of 'Law and Order' growing up, so I was like 'sweet, I totally want to do this because I love arguing," Lucht said.
But the St. Paul teenager's parents have also worried about how to pay for it. Fortunately, nine years ago, Tina and her fellow third graders at Maxfield Elementary were plucked for an experiment called Destination 2010. They were told that they'd have $10,000 waiting for them -- all they had to do was graduate high school and enroll in college.
Destination 2010, or D-2010 as some students call it, stood out from other scholarships because it had nothing to do with income, race or grade point average. The only eligibility was whether you happened to be a third grader at one of seven select schools in 2001 -- Maxfield, Dayton's Bluff, and Bruce Vento in St. Paul, and Anderson, Banneker, Hall and Broadway (later re-named Nellie Stone Johnson) in Minneapolis.
The Minneapolis Foundation picked those seven because some were on academic probation and all were considered low-performing. Graduation rates were low in both cities, especially for students of color. Those seven schools had high minority populations, and there was little hope those kids would ever attend college.
"SUPPOSED TO BE AN INCENTIVE"
Kathleen O'Donnell, director of Destination 2010, said the programs tried to remove the perception of not being able to attend college because of financial issues.
"It was supposed to be an incentive and motivation for both them and their families to consider college to be a possibility," O'Donnell said.
The Minneapolis Foundation committed $5 million; 364 students enrolled. They were each paired with liaisons who'd work one-on-one to encourage them to attend Destination 2010 events, like visits to campuses. O'Donnell said the goal wasn't just to dangle a carrot of money but also offer experiences that exposed the kids to college.
"I think this was fifth grade and I walked up to a student who was just kind of sitting on the grass at Concordia and I just heard him go 'I could see myself here,'" O'Donnell remembered.
Many Destination 2010 students were from families where no one had gone to college. So by high school, liaisons focused on helping with college prep, like how to take the ACT or write a college application essay, or explaining what FAFSA is and why it it's important.
A WAKE UP CALL
O'Donnell and others admit the program cast a wide enough net that it's likely they included students who would have done all of this anyway -- students like Tina Lucht, who originally wanted to be a lawyer but now wants to be a nurse.
For her, the program was most crucial in early high school. She had given into peer pressure and was into drinking and drugs. The pinnacle came early in 10th grade.
"I got really drunk one night and my mom woke me up in the morning, telling me how I came home drunk," she said. "When I got to school, I realized that I couldn't be doing this anymore, so I went to my guidance counselor and told her what was up."
Tina checked herself into rehab, still drunk from the night before. She credits her Destination 2010 liason, Jennifer Whittemore, for being one of the people who stuck with her during that time. Whittemore is quick to throw the credit back.
"She's a very resourceful young woman and she did a lot of it on her own, so there's really not much credit I can take at all because she really did all of these pieces on her own," Whittemore said.
TWO-THIRDS WON'T GET $10K
But for all the campus visits and lure of money, about two-thirds of the original 364 students are no longer eligible for the money.
Back in 2001, on the day the foundation held its press conference to announce Destination 2010, Bradley Scarborough stood up in front of the TV cameras and proclaimed his intention to one day become the first elected black president.
"I feel very happy to know I will get $10,000 to go towards college," Scarborough said.
Nine years later, Scarborough is not eligible for the money. One requirement is that you stay enrolled in a Minneapolis or St. Paul school for all nine years. Officials wouldn't disclose what made Bradley ineligible. The only hint came from Larry Burgess, who was Bradley's principal at Broadway elementary, a school that was renamed for Nellie Stone Johnson.
"Bradley was a very bright young man, and Bradley left us from Broadway -- I'm sorry, Nellie Stone -- and he got out there and started running with the wrong group. And I don't know what happened after that," Burgess said.
MPR News was unable to find Bradley, though we did chat briefly with his mother.
A ONE-TIME PROGRAM
Destination 2010 was always envisioned as a one-time project. The scope argued against creating an ongoing operation. It can bee seen as a failure, if one only considers that just a third of the original kids are still eligible get the money.
But Kathleen O'Donnell said that doesn't account for immeasurable factors, like the encouragement Tina's liaison gave her after coming out of rehab. O'Donnell said it also allowed parents to use reminders of the Destination 2010 money as an incentive.
Conversely, there have been some measurable factors. D-2010 ended up being a showcase example of a problem inner-city schools have long faced -- mobility. How can kids prepare for college if they're always moving and changing schools?
The original 364 students in Destination 2010 attended just seven schools in the first year of the program, their third grade year. The next year, they'd already spread to 56 schools and 71 schools the year after that.
STILL WAITING ON FINAL NUMBERS
There's no proof that the Destination 2010 kids did any better academically than their peers, but O'Donnell thinks the numbers will show that a higher percentage of them went to college. A final report is still more than a year away because the foundation wants to track just who went to college.
O'Donnell is also curious about whether the program actually pushed kids into college or if it only benefited students like Tina, who would have probably gone anyway. O'Donnell has a feeling there has been an impact, especially considering that the program still awards scholarships to students who graduate up to 18 months late, as long as they also enroll in college.
"Anecdotally, I know that for the students who might not be graduating on time -- for them to be told they can get this scholarship and they're not out of the game, is hugely significant," O'Donnell said.
Earlier today, Tina Lucht fulfilled her end of the Destination 2010 bargain when she walked across a stage in Como Park and got her diploma from Creative Arts Magnet High School.
Lucht plans to attend St. Catherine University this fall, but she also joined the Army National Guard recently. The Destination 2010 money is nice, she said, but it comes nowhere near covering the entire cost of tuition. So Lucht will also use the G-I bill to pay for college.
- All Things Considered, 06/10/2010, 3:50 p.m.