From Middle School to College, Six Tips for Educational Success


Rainier Scholar Kelabe Tewolde advises fellow scholar Pablo Santiago-Benitez. Photo by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

There is a shy grin on the face of Pablo Santiago-Benitez, 11, as he proudly explains why he’s already planning for his university career.

“You have to start early or else it will be too late, and before you know it you are already in college,” he says.

Pablo, with his short black hair and a bright red T-shirt worn over a blue long-sleeve top, has been sitting under a leafy shade tree. It’s a change of scenery for a kid who spends a great deal of his summer — voluntarily — in the classroom, having earned a place among the Rainier Scholars, an academic enrichment program that takes minority students from the Seattle area who have barriers to college and gives them extra instruction, mentoring and support. The students and their families make an 11-year commitment with the ultimate goal of college graduation.

As an 11-year-old, Pablo has what may seem to be an uncommonly responsible attitude towards his summer homework, which consumes hours of his time each night on top of the 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. summer school schedule.

Pablo, however, is not one to breeze through just to get it over with. Doing his homework thoroughly and being prepared for every class is Pablo’s job at Rainier Scholars, just as it’s his family’s job to support him in his efforts, and the staff’s to help him every step of the way through college graduation. They are all accountable to one another.

Accountability is one of the six principles taught and emphasized at Rainier. Watch some of the young scholars explain other tenets of the program here:

Pablo has already settled on a career field — herpetology, in which he might work with reptiles and amphibians. And though college is still years away, he is nevertheless excited about how Rainier Scholars helps provide the building blocks that will take him there.

“In science I could learn stuff about the air and the pollution…and the water cycle and how it affects the living organisms, so that could pretty much help me when I want to study herpetology,” he said.

Rainier Scholars executive director Sarah Smith takes her commitment to Pablo and his career preparation very seriously. She and her staff intend to support him, and the hundreds of other scholars, until the day they graduate from college.

“It means that the promises that we made to them 10 years ago and to their families have come to fruition,” said Smith.

Rainier Scholars is a non-profit that accepts 60 to 65 low-income, minority students annually, selecting from over 600 applications. The 11-year program, which lasts through college graduation, was designed to not only stem loss but also to move students forward during the summer months:

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American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions to address the dropout crisis.