Representatives of “Helping Our Teens Elevate Their Potential”, who are in charge of BHS students touring historically black colleges and universities, are (from left) Shayla Adelowo, Michelle Sims, Alisha Williams, Jacquin Benson, Jr., and (not pictured) Nina Watson. Through HOTEP seniors and juniors may attend weekend trips to these universities so that they can make more informed decisions about their futures.
By DAVID COOKEBlytheville Schools PR Dir.
With the input from a few volunteers, some Blytheville High School students have been able to visit colleges and universities that normally they might not have much information about, and it’s helping them to make much more informed decisions about their futures. Several members of the Blytheville community - Michelle Sims, Jacquin Benson, Jr., Nina Watson, Alisha Williams and Shayla Adelowo - approached Supt. Richard Atwill in the summer about possibly targeting BHS juniors and seniors for college tours to historically black colleges and universities. “I met a person through a mutual friend who works with the “Historically Black Colleges and Universities” Awareness Foundation in Memphis, and he helped set up tours that leave Memphis and travel to various schools,” Benson stated. “I thought that idea was very good, but why not localize it on a Mississippi County basis for the students who attend high schools here?” Benson, Sims and the others came up with “Helping Our Teens Elevate Their Potential”. HOTEP partners with the Blytheville School District to take seniors and juniors to some of the historically black colleges so that those students will know what is available to them. In addition to partnering with the district, HOTEP representatives solicit contributions from individuals, businesses and industries, and even the parents of some students contribute funds. The weekend trips through HOTEP to the colleges and universities are free to the students. BHS counselor Emily Crosskno stated that BHS in the past provided tours to Philander-Smith College, the University of Arkansas/Little Rock, Arkansas State University, the University of Memphis and the University of Central Arkansas, and most of the students who attended those trips were part of the College Preparatory Academy of the Delta. “The senior students who were not enrolled in CPAD were allowed two college days where they traveled on their own to visit different college campuses,” Crosskno said. “Before HOTEP we partnered with the HBCU Awareness Foundation, and students were responsible for paying the full cost as well as getting to Memphis to catch the charter bus. But because of HOTEP our students have the opportunity to see college campuses that are not just within the state.”
Eligibility Requirements To be eligible for the tours, BHS students must have had no in-school or out-of-school suspensions all year and also have a minimum 2.0 grade point average. Each student must also bring a copy of his or her transcript to every university. Tours begin in Blytheville, and just since August students and chaperones have gone to such schools as Grambling State University in Grambling, La., the University of Arkansas/Pine Bluff, Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., Alabama A&M in Huntsville, Ala., Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and Tennessee State University and Fisk University in Nashville. Benson, Watson, Sims, Williams and Adelowo, and sometimes even friends, chaperone every tour, and the students are transported to every school by either a chartered bus or vans. HOTEP will schedule tours of Arkansas schools in the spring. Once the students arrive at a campus, they are led by a representative on a general tour of the college. Afterwards they will meet in a large room, where tables are set up and each student will go where his/her academic interest is. During the weekend many of the students will experience their first athletic games, whether football, basketball or baseball. The university will also feed the students. A college advisor will look at each student’s transcript, and sometimes scholarships will be offered to the student on-site. “The most important thing for these students is to be prepared for what can happen at these schools,” stated Williams, who attended Tennessee State. “Students can go online to search for what they want at a school, but social media just seems to ‘come to life’ when the student visits that school. It makes a big impact on them.” Benson went on to say that the students “really look forward to these trips”, that the trips give them the opportunity to choose which universities they might want to attend. He did stress, however, that no student is under any obligation to choose any of those historically black colleges; the trips just give the student added information about a particular school. Sims, a graduate of Grambling State, agreed. “One campus may not ‘fit’ the needs of a student but another one just might,” she said. “For example, a student wanting to concentrate on computers or engineering will likely have different needs from the one who wants to focus on education or medicine.” The furthest trip has been from Blytheville to Florida A&M University, about an 11-hour drive. Fifty-five BHS students attended the journey to TSU in Nashville. Students are also fed snacks by HOTEP on the trips to and from the universities.
Loving the Choices Tony Newmy, a senior, visited Jackson State, Tennessee State and Fisk universities, and he said he was very prepared for college just in taking the studies at BHS. “Every teacher here will help you with your college skills, so a student will be prepared before he even sets foot inside that college,” he said. Tavione Jackson, an 11th-grader, is a member of the ‘TARGET’ and Interact clubs and also Student Council, and she went on the tours to Tennessee State, Fisk and Alabama A&M. She learned what each school offers her, including college classes, scholarships and admission requirements. “Because I am just a junior, I now understand the admissions process a lot better than before,” Jackson added. Ke’Miaya Ware, a senior, stated that different social settings exist for each school she toured. “Campus life at some of the schools are full of life, even on the weekends,” Ware added. “At other schools most students seem to go home on the weekends. It is just up to the individual as to what meets his or her needs.”