“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Our group is dedicated to this school and these kids. They are worth it and deserve the same opportunity to take advantage of college and life beyond high school,” said David Anderson.
David Anderson is a member of the Rotary Club of Leawood, Kansas and has served as the leader of a program called Rotary Encouraging Academic Collegiate Help, or better known to the students as REACH. Ten years ago Anderson connected with Bishop Ward High School to create a special partnership that would help first-generation college students navigate the waters of college preparation. REACH was born at Bishop Ward High School.
“We wanted another way to not just get students ready for graduation, but to ensure they are prepared for college and life beyond,” says Anderson, REACH program leader.
Leawood Rotary members are paired with a junior or senior student and serve as a mentor to help them realize their potential and prepare them for college academically, financially and socially. They meet once a month and follow a curriculum, that has evolved over the years and been developed by the group of committed volunteers. They kick off the year with introductions and a social that allows parents to meet mentors and students. Creating an environment for students where they feel a level of trust and support from various individuals is instrumental to their future success and confidence.
“A lot of these students will be first generation college students and one of the real powers of this program is the ability to help students, as well as parents, understand the value of college and how to navigate and prepare for it,” said Anderson.
This program walks through the nuances of completing a FAFSA form, ACT preparation classes, discussions on picking the right college, field trips to college fairs, and writing a resume. The Rotary brings in guest speakers and also participate with their mentor on a community service project.
Anderson is often asked by other Rotary groups to replicate their curriculum, “We have had much success with helping these students that other schools have asked to adopt our curriculum. However, none have lasted as long as ours, which is a testament to the group of dedicated Rotary volunteers involved. Over three-fourths of our Rotary members are involved with the program and they love it. Their dedication is amazing and they get as much from it as the students.”
The end of year REACH banquet is a special time for senior students as they compete for a chance to win a 4-year college scholarship worth $6,000 per student! As long as they maintain a certain number of credit hours with a certain GPA, they will continue receiving the support throughout college.
“We think it’s important that students not only Get to college but make it through,” says Anderson. “We try to set them up for success as much as we are able.”
This year seniors who won were Cheyenne SilverCloud, attending Missouri State University, Taylor Singleton attending Rockhurst University, and Rajanee Gardner, attending Benedictine College.
“I am so glad that I got to be a part of REACH. I feel that it truly helped and guided me in the right direction so I can accomplish my goals,” said scholarship winner Rajanee Gardner. “Paying for college is such a stressful thing to think about and every little bit helps. I didn’t think I was going to win, but when I heard my name called I was ecstatic. I honestly can’t thank REACH enough for what they’ve done for me; it truly does mean a lot.”
In the last ten years over 200 former Bishop Ward graduates have gone through this program and received hours of mentoring, thousands of dollars in scholarships and life changing experiences.
“We have seen an incredible change in the school’s culture from students thinking they might be going to college, to a culture of knowing for certain that college is attainable,” said Anderson.