Early Identification Program Changes the Course of the Lives of First Generation College Students

When then seventh-grader Ceairah Britt got a letter saying that she’d been recommended for a program designed to help potential first-generation college-goers on their journey through high school and into college, she was puzzled. She wondered why she’d even been chosen.

She wasn’t the best student and even had a D in one of her classes. But, she nervously completed the application, submitted her essay and waited. A few weeks later, she learned that she was accepted into George Mason University’s Early Identification Program (EIP) through a partnership with local public school systems, such as ACPS.

Five years later, Ceairah credits the program with helping her earn a 3.5 GPA, admission to George Mason University (GMU) and a three-year full scholarship covering tuition and fees at GMU.

Ceairah has faced some struggles over the years. She’s found it challenging to balance her school work with family responsibilities and a part-time job. Being the oldest of four children meant a lot of additional responsibility for Ceairah. There were the usual things, like helping out at home and looking after younger siblings while doing homework. But there was also the self-imposed pressure as the child of a teen mom to set big goals and maintain high standards so that she could be a good role model for her siblings.

I set the bar high for my siblings. They see now that it’s possible to go to college and that if I can do it, they can do it as well. Being the first in the family to go to college, especially when there were many who didn’t think I was going to make it, is very important to me. It’s a really big accomplishment for me,” said Ceairah.

Being part of the EIP played a critical role in helping Ceairah set her course for college and ensuring that she stayed on that path. Through EIP she learned to set goals and maintain a focus on her academics while she navigated the responsibilities of home life, along with a part-time job at Noodles and Company. Being a part of the EIP has made all the difference for Ceairah.

I learned to believe in myself and to trust that I can do anything if I set my mind to it. At first I didn’t think I was the best student, but once I got into the program, I actually really tried in school and I could see a big impact in my grades. Getting a scholarship to attend GMU was such a big accomplishment for me. I had been working on it since seventh grade,” said Ceairah.

Ceairah is one of five class of 2018 Titans who walked the stage at George Mason University to mark their successful completion of the EIP. Ceairah, along with Veronica Buabeng, Jose Castanaza, Tijea Cook and Janaka Miles are five of the original seven accepted into the EIP in 2013. Over the past five years they have successfully completed numerous honors, dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses along their journey to becoming the first in their families to attend college or other post-secondary institutions.

The keynote speaker at the event was ACPS 2014 EIP graduate Amira Delmazio, who also received a full scholarship from EIP and is now graduating from college and is planning to attend medical school in the fall.

T.C. Williams Seniors and EIP graduates Ceairah Britt, Veronica Buabeng, and Tijea Cook

T.C. Williams seniors and EIP graduates Ceairah Britt, Veronica Buabeng and Tijea Cook

Three of the five have GPAs of 3.5 and above. Four of the five plan to attend a four-year college and one has chosen to serve our country through military service. Tijea and Veronica are Scholarship Fund of Alexandria (SFA) recipients, with Tijea receiving one of the largest scholarships the SFA awards. She was also awarded and has accepted a four-year tuition scholarship to attend Hampton University this fall.

The EIP is a rigorous program. Each year a dozen seventh-grade students from Francis C. Hammond Middle School, George Washington Middle School and Jefferson-Houston School are selected from among more than 50 students recommended.

Through the program students receive after-school mentoring and tutoring from GMU undergraduate students, opportunities to attend Saturday learning workshops and three weeks of targeted academic support in Standards of Learning (SOL) prep courses during day-long learning sessions at GMU during the summer. Student also engage in volunteer activities. This wrap-around program supports both students and their families by also providing mandatory parent workshops for newly accepted students. This year marks the 10-year anniversary of this fruitful partnership between ACPS and GMU.

It’s a big time commitment, but Ceairah firmly believes that it’s worth it.

If you’re in the program and are struggling, keep going for it. There are people who have dropped out, they say ‘it’s too much’ and that they ‘don’t want to do it anymore.’ But, if you just keep going for it and remember your overall goal, then you’ll be fine. Be sure to do everything that’s needed and connect with the EIP staff and people at GMU or the college that you would like to go to. The program offers a lot of resources, some of which you may not think you need. But keep an open mind, share your experience with others and ask questions. You never know how the EIP people can help and support you. If you don’t talk, you may never know that there was another option or a different path you could have taken,” said Ceairah.

As her final year of high school draws to a close and Ceairah prepares for finals and ties up loose ends to meet lingering deadlines, she looks ahead to her time this fall at GMU. She plans to study psychology and become a social worker. She also hopes to own an adoption agency down the road.

I love talking to people and helping them. Sharing my personal experience and helping others put words to their own experiences and being there to support them is something that I think is really important,” said Ceairah.

To seventh-grade EIP program candidates, Ceairah says,

Don’t doubt yourself. There are always possibilities, but you have to first try. Ask questions. Use the resources available to you and put in the effort. You never know what the outcome will be.”

Enjoy these highlights from last week’s EIP ceremony:

ACPS, Alexandria City High School, Highlights, Satellite