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Huntsville Cap and Gown students receive full academic scholarships

Four local students are going to college with free tuition and no student debt
Published: May. 15, 2020 at 7:20 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - For lower income students, paying for college and attending a four-year university is extremely challenging.

Years ago, teachers at J.O. Johnson High School started the Cap and Gown Program. A program tailored to mentoring kids and preparing them for the next steps.

It started with a few students who took college tours and teachers who provided free ACT tutoring.

It’s now in every Huntsville high school helping hundreds of kids every year.

“The amount of exposure I had, I didn’t even know about this college until I joined Cap and Gown. The college tours, all the visits it’s been very helpful," Wesley Clay said.

Clay, is one of the four students attending Berea College this fall.

Berea College offers a free tuition program.

All four students say, they’re thankful for this unique opportunity.

“With my financial situation I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go to college. Once I got accepted, it was really nice to be able to go stress free," Sebastian Berres explained.

Berres, who’s graduating from Mae Jemison High School with Clay, says without Cap and Gown, this opportunity wouldn’t have happened.

“I’m looking forward to being able to study what I want to study, and being stress free. Being able to focus on my major," Lamonika Dent said.

Dent, who’s graduating from Lee High School, is studying to be a nurse. Again, without the stress of paying for tuition.

Desmond Pearson, another graduate of Mae Jemison, is the fourth student from Huntsville City Schools who received a scholarship as well.

“To all the teachers and faculty, thank you for helping me throughout this long. I know it’s been hard because I’m pretty hard-headed, but it was all worth it at the end of the day," Pearson explained.

None of this would’ve been possible without executive director Emily Heller.

Heller, along with other colleagues at Johnson and Jemison High Schools, spearheaded the program years ago because of her own experience in college.

“As a low income student myself at the time, when I was in high school, what I’m most looking forward to is them graduating without a ton of debt, unlike me," Heller said.

Heller says she knows this will open up options for whatever the students want to do after they graduate, without the added pressure of student debt.

The Cap and Gown program is still accepting applications for the free ACT and college prep summer program.

Any Huntsville city high school student can apply. Click here for more information.

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