Rural Leonore Annenberg Scholars Appreciate Opportunity

Last Updated: February 23, 2012

This article appeared in the February 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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For rural recipients of the Leonore Annenberg Scholarship, the news that they are being considered for the prestigious scholarship comes as a complete surprise.

“I learned about the scholarship out of the blue in my junior year of high school,” says Elia Lopez. “My counselor told me I was a finalist and that I had to write an essay.”

Lopez, a 2011 graduate of Edinburgh North High School in Hidalgo County in south Texas, earned the Scholarship in 2010.

Chevon Boone, the 2008 recipient makes a similar observation: "I didn't know until my counselors told me I'd been nominated. I thought, 'Great. What does this mean?'" Boone, from Garysburg, North Carolina might have been surprised, but her mentors at KIPP Pride High School in Gaston, North Carolina, and staff at the Leonore Annenberg Scholarship Fund were not. They encouraged her to broaden her ideas about where she would attend college.

Ultimately Boone chose the University of Pennsylvania. "I was able to visit Penn and meet other Annenberg Scholarship recipients and that helped me picture myself here," Boone says, then adds, "But, really, I applied on a dare from my mentor. When I learned I got in and the Scholarship would help pay for my transportation home, I figured, 'it's four years of my life, why not give it a shot?' And, I'm glad I did."

The Leonore Annenberg Scholarship Fund works with partner organizations to identify “high school juniors of uncommon intelligence, empathy, and drive who overcome challenging circumstances and demonstrate exceptional character and academic achievement.” Recipients receive a four-year scholarship which includes support for all of their expenses.

“It was a huge weight off my shoulders,” says Kassandra Hopkins, the 2011 rural recipient. “Learning in my junior year that I had received the Scholarship gave me time and freedom to apply to the college that was right for me.”

Potential Annenberg Scholars don’t know they are being considered for the scholarship. That’s because they don’t apply. Instead, a teacher or counselor must work with a partner organization of the Leonore Annenberg Scholarship Fund to nominate the student. Students learn they are being considered only after they are selected as a finalist and are asked to write an essay and complete an interview.

Scholarship Enables Students to Broaden Their Studies

Hopkins will graduate this spring from Vinalhaven High School in Vinalhaven, Maine, an island of about 1200 year-round residents 13 miles off the coast. She completed her final interview for the scholarship over Skype. Hopkins chose Amherst College, in part because her high school English teacher is a graduate and encouraged her to apply. A visit to the Massachusetts community confirmed her decision. “It’s a huge college town, but a really small campus. I liked that aspect,” she says and adds that Amherst’s open curriculum and opportunities to take classes at other area colleges was also a draw. “I just really liked a lot of different aspects.”

Elia Lopez chose Brown University and was accepted into its Program in Liberal Medical Education. That eight-year program provides a broad undergraduate education with emphases on social, cultural, and historical contexts followed by four years at Brown’s Alpert Medical School. Lopez is majoring in anthropology and earning a minor in sociology.

Lopez hopes to return to her community and open a chain of free medical clinics. She became interested in medicine and began to witness the challenges of health care access and equity when she was a young child and her father was diagnosed with a chronic illness. “My brother and I were forced to be adults and help take care of my dad while my mom worked,” she explains. “It was appointment after appointment. I’ve had a passion for medicine ever since.”

Boone majors in Health and Societies. "The program is really community-based," she explains. The program addresses a variety of public health issues and engages students with residents of the neighborhoods around Penn's campus. "Our classes help us stand in the shoes of people we're working with," says Boone. The program has worked with such issues as the urban asthma epidemic and the impact of neighborhood gentrification on displaced residents. "What happens when people are uprooted from their community?" Boone asks. "Often people don't realize it's happening and the compensation they are offered is low. Then they have to move, put their children in different schools, find different health care arrangements."

Lydia Ducharme, the 2009 rural Annenberg Scholar, also explains her academic choices with references to her personal experience. Ducharme graduated from Hazen Union High School in Hardwick, Vermont and attends Boston College where she is pursuing a sociology major and general education minor. “I’m interested in education policy and giving every student equal opportunity in the classroom,” she says.

Ducharme chose her major because “I found myself having conversations about life, society, and social systems, so I thought I should study something that lets me have those conversations more often.” She explains her interest in education as well. “Because my high school was small, I had opportunities to be involved in a lot of different activities and leadership positions, and I had really good relationships with teachers,” she says. “I don’t know where I’d be without that. It helped build who I am right now.”

Yet Ducharme sees differences in opportunity for students from different backgrounds. “In high school I did work with student voice projects and I had chances to form good relationships with educators. However, I also see ways in which my education was lacking,” she explains. “So I’m interested in how schools can better respond to low-income families and the trouble they have with education. I saw students falling into patterns of not getting much out of their education and feeling like they weren't worth much. We know that when students have voice in their education they do better. I want to work on this. How do we get the word out? How are rural areas different? What does that mean for them academically?”

Boone also considers her high school background as she thinks about her future. In her junior year she was elected President of the African American Arts Alliance, an on-campus theater group at Penn. She uses that experience in her volunteer activities at a nearby KIPP high school, where she teaches improv. "I can identify with the students. I can tell them — I don't even have to tell them because I'm proof — that what they are doing is going to pay off, they can go to college, they can succeed. It brings everything back home." Boone also served as a pre-Freshman counselor in the same Penn program that helped her get oriented to college.  

Flexibility, diversity, and opportunity

The Leonore Annenberg Scholarship allows recipients to focus on their studies and take advantage of academic opportunities without having to worry about finances or costs to their families. For example, Hopkins will take a trip to France this summer, something that will enhance her preparation to study biochemistry and French at Amherst. Ducharme will spend a semester studying sociology at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. For Lopez the opportunity to be in Brown’s Program for Liberal Medical Education enables her to think about her plans to improve access to health care in the Rio Grande Valley with the confidence that that her undergraduate studies will flow seamlessly into her medical school education.

The flexibility of the Leonore Annenberg Scholarship is matched by a strong personal support system. Each student has an adult mentor, someone from their community who stays in touch with the student through their college career and offers guidance and feedback as needed. In addition, staff members at the Leonore Annenberg Scholarship Fund also remain in touch with Scholars. "They took me through the beginning states of college," says Boone. "It's almost like they serve as mothers."

Ducharme also emphasizes the personal support of Annenberg staff. “The entire staff has been really supportive and interested in what I’m doing. “They are genuinely concerned with me as a person and with my personal growth. You don’t find that in many scholarships.”

The rural recipients recognize the opportunities that the Scholarship makes possible and express delight in their college experience. “Boston College has such a huge mix of people,” says Ducharme, “I surprised myself at how comfortable I’ve been here and how much I’m learning, still learning, from my peers.”

Lopez asserts a similar sentiment. “There are so many different kinds of people here at Brown. And everyone is so loving and accepting and ready to help each other out,” she says adding, “There are so many possibilities I never dreamed of in high school.” Then Lopez pauses and reflects on high school classmates who don’t have or see many opportunities. Then she continues, “You have to never stop looking at the bigger picture. Have a sense of progress, but don’t forget where you came from.”

Know a rural student you would like to nominate for a Leonore Annenberg Scholarship? Contact or write Rural School and Community Trust, Capacity Building Program, 1775 Graham Avenue, Ste. 204, Henderson, NC 27536. Please note: All nominations must be made through a partner organization; Leonore Annenberg Scholarship Fund will not accept direct nominations.

The Leonore Annenberg Scholarship Fund is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. By request, educational partner organizations nominate a very limited number of high school students who, in the face of difficult circumstances, demonstrate exceptional academic achievement and noble character. The scholarships cover all undergraduate expenses at fully accredited and academically rigorous four-year colleges or universities in the United States.

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Read more from the February 2012 Rural Policy Matters.