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SALISBURY — Two years ago, Jennifer Canipe and Gwin Barr hoped to enable a handful of at-risk youth to attend college each year.
This fall, they’re starting a program that will help hundreds or even thousands of students work toward that goal.
The Rowan County Crosby Scholars Community Partnership is a college access program that aims to prepare students academically, financially and personally for successful college admission as early as middle school.
Starting this fall, the program will be available for free to every public middle and high school student in Rowan County. Students entering grades 6 through 10 can apply to Crosby Scholars from Aug. 15 to Oct. 1.
The more community support it receives, the more help it can offer, including financial aid.
“We feel this brings about the opportunity for hope,” Canipe said. “We hope the whole community will partner with us, because it will affect the entire community.”
Canipe, executive director, and Barr, board chair, said this program has been in the works for about two years.
Barr has worked as a counselor at a pregnancy support center for about 11 years. She said that while the immediate aid they got was “amazing,” she started to wonder how she could help them more in the long-term.
“I began to ask if anyone had given them the hope of having a job,” she said. “Had anyone encouraged them not to drop out of high school, to go to college? Had anyone even said that was a possibility? Week after week, they just said ‘no.’ ”
Initially, Barr teamed up with Canipe to start a program called “Step Up Salisbury,” a small scholarship and mentor program.
Then they learned about Crosby Scholars.
More than 7,000 students are enrolled in the program at the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System. In 2012, 100 percent of senior participants graduated high school. Immediately after graduation, 98 percent of seniors in the program enroll in a two-year or four-year college. “After a three and a half hour meeting, in which they offered for us to become their first other Crosby Scholars, we walked out of there and had a decision to make,” Barr said.
Step Up Salisbury would have met the needs of about six to eight young people at a time, from one middle school and one high school. Crosby Scholars could serve many more students at all public middle and high schools in Rowan County.
Canipe and Barr said their decision was clear.
At the time, Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina had just started a partnership with Crosby Scholars to help it grow.
“I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that as we were looking for information, they were looking to expand the Crosby Scholars program,” Canipe said. “I believe this is how we are supposed to bring about systemic change in Rowan County.”
In the first two years, Canipe and Barr said their goal is to encourage each student to enroll in the program and get help with working toward successful admission to college. That could mean a four-year university, or it could mean a two-year institution like Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
“In Rowan County, only 17 percent of people 25 and older have a college degree,” Canipe said. “That compares to over 25 percent statewide.”
Middle school students attend a Crosby Scholars Academy with workshops on topics like note-taking skills, test-taking skills, building self-esteem, anger management, time management and goal setting.
High school students attend one academy each year and take classes in academic skills, leadership development, financial aid planning, college admissions and SAT preparation. To stay in the program, they must maintain a 2.0 grade point average and must not receive an out-of-school suspension.
Crosby Scholars provides support and incentive for students to remain drug-free and alcohol-free, and it encourages them to give back to the community.
The program also leverages financial aid and scholarships, and it awards graduating seniors and returning college students “last dollar grants” based on unmet need.
Canipe said it’s been great to see the dream of herself and Barr becoming a reality, and she credits God for making it possible.
Now, she said it’s up to the community to get on board.
She has already presented Crosby Scholars to every middle school and high school in the Rowan-Salisbury School System, and now she’s visiting elementary school leaders and other community groups to spread the word. The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education has expressed its support.
A Board of Directors has been established for Rowan County Crosby Scholars, and it is now hiring a program director.
More details about Crosby Scholars in Forsyth County can be found at www.crosbyscholars.org. A website will be set up soon for the Rowan County program at www.crosbyscholarsrowan.org.
For more information or to offer support, email info@crosbyscholarsrowan.org or call the Rowan County Crosby Scholars office at 704-638-6235.

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