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Non-profit aiming to help students graduate college debt-free is expanding in Milwaukee

Posted at 5:29 AM, Apr 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-15 08:01:14-04

MILWAUKEE — A program to help traditionally under-served students cut a path from high school to college has launched for the first time ever in Wisconsin, and the non-profit has chosen Milwaukee as the pilot city.

Jeremiah Hawthorne, a junior at Golda Meir, is getting ready to make some big decisions about his future — with the help of the Schuler Scholar Program.

"Honestly, I was like, pretty lazy," he recalled, thinking about his younger self. "I didn't really focus or give too much effort to school."

If he could go back in time and give himself some advice, Jeremiah would say, "Get out of your comfort zone."

A lot has changed since that time. "Even two years ago, I don't think I would have accepted to do an interview," revealed Jeremiah.

Now, he's at ease speaking in front of a TMJ4 News camera and is on track to begin applying to colleges. He's even considering an out-of-state university, something he might not have explored without the Schuler Scholar Program.

After launching at Golda Meir, the program is now expanding to a second Milwaukee high school, Riverside University High School.

Jeff Lasky, the school's principal, added, "It is a long application process, but we were excited to get through it." Lasky said it will enhance programs designed to help students think about the next step. "I think when you're in high school, there is a wide world of colleges out there. Sorting through which one is going to be a great fit can be challenging," Lasky said.

Since its start, Schuler has provided more than 1,600 first-generation students, students of color, and low-income students with ACT and SAT test prep, college visits, and tutoring — all completely free.

"Jack Schuler, one of our founders, actually went to (high) school in Whitefish Bay and found a teacher that took him under his wing," explained Mandy Balek-Stephens, the Schuler Scholar School Director at Gold Meir.

She said that teacher pushed him to academic success, and now the Schuler Scholar Program partners with top liberal arts colleges and universities around the country. The goal is to help students get to college, but also to make sure they graduate with zero or very little debt.

"We really see a growth in the students both academically, but also really just coming out of their shells," continued Balek-Stephens. "Jeremiah is one of them."

Jeremiah feels like the program is preparing him for a college course load and shared that his favorite part is that he has the support of people who want to see him grow in all areas of his life. "I like how it's kind of a family, in a sense."

Leaders at Schuler are in talks with more schools in the MPS system and hope to launch the program at new schools in the next year or two.

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