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Senn High Students Start College Scholarships To Aid Undocumented Classmates

Senn High School. Credit: karbon69/Flickr

Senn High School. Credit: karbon69/Flickr

A 17-year-old Edgewater resident and native of Spain who graduated from Nicholas Senn High School this year is one of two students who has received a $1,500 college scholarship because of a new program initiated by that school’s student council.

“I’m very happy and very grateful that I got the scholarship,” Almudena Rincon said last week. She will attend Loyola University Chicago — Lake Shore Campus and plans to major in journalism and English.

Senn High School’s student council started the scholarship program last year because it wanted to be able to help students who weren’t eligible for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to attend college, according to Alexander Roi, a guidance counselor at the school who is also the student council coordinator.

The office of Federal Student Aid, which reviews FAFSA applications, provides grants, loans and work-study funds for college or career school. As part of the U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid is the largest provider of student financial aid in the nation. But students who are undocumented, who are not permanent residents, or who do not fit other, specific requirements are not allowed to apply for federal student aid. This means they are missing out on $150 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study funds each year.

“The students found that to be unfair,” Roi said. “(They thought) these kids are public school students, everybody should have the same opportunities, (and) we are all at the same school.”

The students held various fundraisers to pay for the scholarships. In all, the student council raised $3,000 by selling popcorn and uniquely decorated rubber ducks. The school also held a pasta dinner, inviting parents and other community members into the school to see what Senn High School has to offer, Roi said.

“Nobody’s tax money was used to pay for an immigrant student to go to college,” he said, adding that the teachers matched a certain dollar amount that was largely raised by the students.

Roi said the two students who received the scholarships had to submit information about their grades and their extra-curricular activities. They also had to write essays explaining why they deserved the scholarship and what they would do to “pay it forward.”

“The students were able to formalize why they feel they are deserving of this honor, but also how they feel they are going to give back when they get the opportunity to do so,” Roi said.

He added that the students who received the scholarships are able to attend any college or university. “It was a token of help,” he said. “It’s just in its infancy, so it won’t pay a full ride. Maybe these kids will give back to the school for this scholarship. It could be two, three, 10 times what it is now.”

Roi said the student council plans to continue the college scholarship program. Since school is out for the summer, he hasn’t had a chance to meet with the new student council president to consider any changes to the program. But it’s likely that, as of now, the fundraisers and pasta dinner will continue in the coming academic year.

Roi said the senior class of 2015 had a 96 percent graduation rate. Out of that 96 percent, 98 percent were accepted into college. The five guidance counselors at Senn High School helped the students raise $13.5 million in college scholarships and grants.

“People in the neighborhood really should take a look again at neighborhood schools,” Roi said. “Neighborhood schools are really doing good things. They really should be invested in.”

Meanwhile, Rincon said the $1,500 she received as part of the scholarship program makes it easier for her and her family to pay for her tuition at Loyola. She and her family moved to Edgewater in August 2014. Previously, they had lived in Los Angeles for three years.

“We feel like there are better opportunities here for us” to go to college here, she said. “I think it was a great idea for the scholarship. I know that Senn will continue it in the next years, and it will definitely benefit other students like me.”


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