The ad hoc group of Forest Park residents — which first met at the Brown Cow on Oct. 29, 2014 to discuss what could be done to improve the District 209 high schools and which led to Ned Wagner and Claudia Medina being elected to the D209 school board — is continuing in their pan-Proviso Township efforts by starting a scholarship program for D209 senior students in collaboration with Forest Park’s Kiwanis Club.
Wagner laughed as he acknowledged that the idea of providing scholarships in May and starting this late in the game is a crazy idea.
“Who ever heard of starting a scholarship fund in two months without having any money?!” he said. “But that’s the kind of ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ approach that got Claudia, me and Theresa Kelly elected last year.”
Wagner explained that the initial goal of their Proviso scholarship group, called 209 Together, is modest. They hope to provide scholarships of $1,000 to two seniors at Proviso East and two seniors at Proviso West at the D209 board meeting in May.
One type of scholarship will be the more traditional form and go to students with high GPAs. “Persistence Pays” grants will go to seniors who have GPAs of at least 3.5 and demonstrated academic excellence over their entire high school careers.
The more creative category is called “Overcoming Adversity” and will be awarded to students who may have entered their freshman year scoring below grade level on standardized testing but got their act together and demonstrated consistent improvement during their four years in high school. The minimum GPA for this scholarship is 2.0.
“This is a way to support kids who may come from poor feeder schools,” Wagner explained, “and give them a reason to work hard in high school. You don’t have to have straight A’s to get this scholarship. What you have to do is demonstrate that you’re working hard. We want to show these kids that we really care.”
The applications and essays students complete for the scholarship will be judged by a committee of Proviso Township residents. Wagner said he already has committee members in place from Maywood, Bellwood and Hillside.
The Kiwanis Club of Forest Park got involved in the project by creating the Kiwanis Foundation, a legal entity put together in such a way that people can donate money to the foundation and write it off as a tax deduction. Wagner belongs to the club and realized the foundation could be a way to reward donors while serving as a vehicle called an “enabling charitable agent” for receiving donations and passing them on to the 209 Together Scholarship Program, its official name.
The counseling departments at both Proviso East and West high schools already have information about the scholarships and are passing it along to graduating seniors. With the cost of education soaring a $1,000 grant may seem like a drop in the bucket, but Wagner pointed out that for a student enrolling at Triton College, $1,000 can make a significant difference. Triton’s website states that the cost of a credit hour at the school for in-district students is currently $113.
“This is a start,” he added. “Next year maybe we’ll be able to give scholarships for $2,000. The amount of money we plan to give this year is not going to help much with the cost of going to a $40,000-a-year college. It’s not going to change the world, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Wagner said there are really two pieces to what 209 Together is doing. In addition to the scholarships, the group is trying to keep together the coalition that elected him, Medina and Kelly to the board.
“We put all our resources into getting elected,” he explained. “It’s been about 11 months since we were installed on the board, and we realized we have a fragile majority. In order make our effort sustainable, we have to keep the coalition together. Creating a scholarship program is a reason for people to get excited, a way of reaching out in a positive way.”
Jerry Lordan is a member of the Kiwanis Club. A faculty member at Fenwick, a private Catholic high school, he was instrumental in putting together the 209 Together Scholarship Program.
“As an educational historian,” Lordan said, “I would note that quality public education has always been the vehicle of upward socio-economic mobility in our democracy. Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers charged with changing the world for the better, one community and one child at a time. Hence the Kiwanis Foundation is pleased to be partners with 209 Together to enable them in the charitable aspects of their scholarship initiative.”