Program helps Roanoke high school students aim for college success
Skyler Keil walked across the stage at William Fleming High School Monday afternoon, for a cap and gown moment the COVID-19 shutdown threatened to take away. He and his classmates will graduate during a virtual ceremony Thursday.
"You know it feels like I succeeded, and did what I needed to do to get through," Keil told WDBJ7 in an interview last week. "And I did really work hard for this, so I'm really happy about it."
Five years ago, Keil was a 7th grader taking part in the GEAR UP Virginia program, a state initiative with federal funding, that encourages students to aim for college.
Today, more than 500 seniors at William Fleming and Patrick Henry High Schools are part of the program, and more than 200 have plans to attend college, qualifying for a $5,000 scholarship.
The information sessions, guest speakers and college visits made a difference for Keil.
"Oh, it helped," Keil said, "because I never really had anybody in my life that went to college, so I really didn't know anything about college before they showed up. So it helped me get started. It helped the wheels start turning."
'When you catch them early, the earlier the better," said William Fleming High School Principal Archie Freeman, "because it keeps them motivated, keeps them interested in school."
"Not just thinking about going to college," added Executive Director of Counseling and Equity Taisha Steele, "but actually giving them the resources that help them understand that this is attainable."
Freeman and Steele say the program has been a game-changer.
Keil is preparing to attend Virginia Commonwealth University, to pursue a passion he developed late in his high school career.
"I'm going to be majoring in theater. and minoring in musical theater," Keil said, "and hopefully I can make a future out of that, because that's something that I really want to do."
"These kids are going to do wonderful things, and I'm so excited to hear more," Steele said, "their stories and how things turn out for them. But they are going to be successful, they are going to be great."
The program followed the students who started five years ago when they were in 7th grade. Now that they're graduating, the school system must sit out a year. When it is eligible again, Roanoke City Public Schools intends to apply for a new GEAR UP grant.