While much attention is focused on what’s wrong with District 209, two local organizations recently teamed up to demonstrate Proviso’s true worth to stakeholders by awarding scholarships to deserving students.
On Aug. 3, the Forest Park Kiwanis Club and local community group 209 Together hosted a pizza dinner at the Park District of Forest Park’s administrative headquarters for six recent Proviso graduates and their families. There, recipients of the first annual scholarships were each presented with a $1,000 scholarship and congratulated by local district leaders.
Though the longtime civic group and the new ad hoc education group instituted the scholarship just this past spring, they were lucky enough to hit their fundraising goal of $6,000 in a matter of weeks.
According to 209 Together member Ken Snyder, scholarship funds came entirely from Proviso residents and businesses, mostly in donation amounts of $25, $50 and $100. The biggest contributor to the funds was Forest Park National Bank & Trust Co., donating $1,000 to the fund.
After announcing the scholarship, the group received over 40 applications. From there, a selection committee of seven residents across Proviso Township read applications with redacted personal information and selected two students from each school to receive a $1,000 scholarship.
“Persistence Pays” scholarships were awarded to three seniors who had a GPA of at least 3.5 and demonstrated academic excellence during their entire high school career.
The second scholarship, “Overcoming Adversity,” was awarded to three students who started freshman year with below-grade-level standardized test scores but worked hard to consistently improve their grades through senior year.
Snyder said that while the groups hope to offer more scholarships in the future, this first year’s offerings represent a good start in celebrating the academic achievements of deserving students and entice students to work harder district-wide.
“I think it’s one of the things we have to do if we want a strong community and a strong high school,” he said. “If you look at the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, you’ll find tons of scholarships available for their students. If we want a healthy high school and community, this is something we have to do as well.”
Melrose Park resident and PMSA graduate Lizbeth Garcia said she initially applied for the scholarship because she felt she had nothing to lose.
“I recognized that a lot of my peers were also very well eligible and worthy of the scholarship, so I figured I’d give it a shot and see where it would go,” she recalled.
Garcia, who will be starting college at Northwestern University as a science major, is glad her strong grades and high school involvement with student council proved her hard work was worthy of a scholarship. When she found out she was receiving the award, she was surprised.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Garcia said. “At the senior awards ceremony, they called my name a couple times, but when they called my name for this specific one, I just couldn’t believe they would actually give it to me.”
Berkeley resident and Proviso West graduate Temitope Oshinbanjo was happy to receive a scholarship to help him cover expenses for his first year at the University of Dubuque in Iowa.
“I wasn’t going to apply for it because I didn’t think I was going to get it, but luckily I was one of the guys that got picked,” he said. “This scholarship is really going to help me toward my tuition for school and books.”
Oshinbanjo, who participated in community service, track and field and Proviso West’s Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC), looks forward to applying the skills he learned in high school toward his intended major of computer science.
Overall, Snyder hopes the scholarship demonstrates to Proviso students and communities that there are many local leaders who want to see the kids of the district thrive.
“I think one of the reasons we did the scholarship was because I don’t think there’s enough awareness in Proviso that these really talented kids are going to our schools,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to understand that. If any parent met those six scholarship winners or read the applications, they would want their child to be going to school with kids like that.”