At Arlington's Webb Elementary, money for college

 

A schoolteacher's daughter, Veronica Rodriguez grew up hearing the importance of a good education and knew she would attend college.

But how to pay for it?

 

A schoolteacher's daughter, Veronica Rodriguez grew up hearing the importance of a good education and knew she would attend college.

But how to pay for it?

The Rotary Club of Arlington had part of the answer. All students who finish sixth grade at Webb Elementary and go on to graduate from high school are eligible for $750 a semester in scholarship money. Over four years, that's $6,000 for books and tuition in a time of fast-rising college costs.

"It definitely helped me a lot," Rodriguez said. "I started at a community college, and [the $750] basically paid my tuition."

After getting an associate degree at Brookhaven College, Rodriguez, 23, attended the University of Texas at Dallas and earned a bachelor's in international political economy. Now she's working on a master's in public policy and was chosen for a different Rotary scholarship to help with that.

Rotary Club leaders point to her story as an example of how the Webb program works. The club -- which adopted Webb and supports it in numerous ways -- started the scholarships in the mid-1990s to help break the cycle of poverty at the north Arlington school, where 94 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged.

On June 6, the club will host its annual golf tournament to raise money for the scholarships. The event will be at Shady Valley Golf Club, and organizer Clete McAlister is seeking more players and sponsors to participate.

The Rotary Club has an $800,000 endowment for the scholarships but wants to reach at least $2 million. That would generate about $100,000 a year in interest.

Rotarians are proud of the program and believe that community members who hear about it will want to support it.

It "is an incentive to the kids to stay in school and the opportunity to change their lives forever," McAlister said.

Making a difference

Breaking the cycle of poverty is a big challenge, but the scholarship program seems to be helping.

According to statistics the club cites, of the 90 or so students who finish sixth grade at Webb in a typical year, only 30 will graduate from high school. The good news is that about 20 of those, or 67 percent, will start college -- almost the same as the 70 percent rate of the area population in general, the club says.

Webb's demographic breakdown includes 77 percent Hispanic and 12 percent African-American, according to May figures on the school district's website.

It's no secret that people with college degrees generally have higher income and lower unemployment rates. In 2010, for example, the median weekly income for full-time workers age 25 and up with a bachelor's degree was $1,038, compared with $626 for a high school diploma and $444 for a dropout, according to figures posted May 4 on the website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The unemployment rate for the first group, meanwhile, was 5.4 percent, compared with 10.3 and 14.9 percent for the other two groups, respectively, the figures show.

Principal Michael Martin said the scholarship program has helped lower the school's mobility rate, the number of students moving in and out during the school year. It has also drawn families from outside the school's attendance zone.

"Webb is a school that wouldn't ordinarily get a lot of transfer requests," he said. "But because of the Rotary program, there is a higher demand for transfers from across the district."

'Unique' commitment

The scholarship program can help take a bite out of ever-rising college costs. At the University of Texas at Arlington for the 2010-11 academic year, tuition, books, and room and board started at about $14,700 for a Texas resident living in a dorm. At Texas A&M University, undergraduates living on campus can expect to pay about $20,782 in 2011-12.

Rotarians even help high school students apply for other financial aid, like Pell Grants.

"The Webb scholarship program is a commitment by the downtown club to children that is unique," said Jeff Provence, principal of Lamar High School. "Members from the club come to Lamar to help any student, including those from Webb, complete the [federal financial aid application] form."

Ten Webb scholarship recipients are expected to graduate from college this year. They'll join the 25 others who have already done so, including Rodriguez, who grew up in a single-mother household with two sisters.

Her family is well acquainted with the Rotary program. Damaris, the oldest of the three sisters, and Vanessa, the youngest, used the scholarship to help pay for their studies at the University of Texas at Arlington, where Vanessa is still a student.

For Alma Lozada's three children, that's a possible $18,000 in financial aid from the Rotary Club.

"That's a big help," said Lozada, who herself worked at Webb for two years as a bilingual fourth-grade teacher. "I'm very grateful to the Rotary."

Patrick M. Walker,

817-390-7423

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Golf tournament

To sign up as a player or sponsor for the Rotary golf tournament June 6 benefiting Webb scholarships, contact Clete McAlister at 817-271-7318 or cletemc@gmail.com, or click on the following link for more information:

http://www.clubrunner.ca/Portal/SitePages/SitePage.aspx?cid=3872&pid=49204

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veronica