By Ed Runyan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Taylor Stephenson, who graduated last week from Warren G. Harding High School, has never seen her name in the paper for making it to a state championship in sports or being a 4.0 student.
She’s also never been in the paper for acting out or getting into trouble.
In fact, one of her biggest supporters, a school district community liaison named Jimmy Pugh, says Stephenson is the kind of student who sometimes disappears in the student body at a big high school such as Harding.
“She’s in the forgotten middle,” said Pugh, whose job puts him in touch with the personal lives of students.
But Pugh said Stephenson is the type of young woman whose potential to do great things for herself and society is unlimited.
“Oh my God, she’s a gem. She’s always on time. She’s polite. She is something special,” he said.
Pugh is proud that he noticed the shy girl when she was a freshman at Harding, just after transferring there from a much smaller school.
By her sophomore year, he had gotten her into a program offered through Youngstown State University for Harding students who meet certain target populations, such as first generation to attend college, poverty and minority.
Stephenson met all of those targets of the Academic Achievers program, which receives funds from a private donor and helps prepare disadvantaged high school students for college at no cost.
Between the Academic Achievers program and an additional source of funding Pugh was able to find for her, Stephenson will be attending YSU this fall on a full-ride scholarship, including room and board.
With the help of Academic Achievers, she’s not only become academically prepared for college, she’s also gained a greater sense of her ability to succeed.
She plans to major in psychology for her undergraduate program but also plans to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology.
“I want to be a counselor, maybe open my own practice,” she said.
Academic Achievers, which this year had 22 students in grades nine to 12, involves after-school tutoring at Harding during the school year and six weeks of classes at YSU during summers, including housing in a YSU dorm.
For Stephenson, the program removed what she knew would be her biggest obstacle: money.
“I had doubts about finances,” she said.
Her mother, Billie Bradley, agrees she could not have afforded to send her daughter to college.
“I’m happy she’s going to be able to go to school,” Bradley said. “I couldn’t have provided it for her myself. She’s done everything she’s been told to do.”
Now that Stephenson has spent several months at YSU, she’s comfortable there.
But Pugh said he believes the move from Warren to a YSU dorm and full-time university student is the first of several steps to help her achieve great things.
Pugh quotes Bill Border, the director of the program, who says Stephenson is “someone you have to re-pot,” like you would a plant in a container.
“You have to put her in a bigger pot, and she’ll explode. She will really flourish.”