How do I give small scholarships to at-risk kids
March 10, 2007 1:22 PM   Subscribe

How do I disburse scholarships for an after-school program to underprivileged youth, who have little or no parental support?

I am involved with a youth sailing club on a tiny (13,000 people) Caribbean nation, and we have a modest scholarship fund. Here's alot of background before I flesh out the question- Sorry for all the detail:

Most of the US sailing institutions at which I've taught have had primarily wealthy cliente (surprise!) but at this club most of the kids would be considered at-risk youth and quite a few come from very poor families, with one or zero parents in their home. This has created it's own set of challenges, but it is also the reason I got involved in the first place. We try to teach sailing in a culturally relevant manner, emphasizing teamwork, confidence, and self-respect.

The club is non-profit, slightly government supported, and one of only a handful of recreational programs for kids to do on the island. Our enrollment fees are extremely low (around $40/ month), especially compared to similar US sailing programs. Even so, alot of families cannot afford to send their kids to the after school program, or the summer sailing camp. Furthermore, residents here are very unaccustomed to the idea of paying for, or even encouraging their kids to do extracurricular activities.

What really inspires me is that some kids will show up, week after week, to sailing classes with no parental encouragement or support. Sailing is the national sport here and has played a huge role in the history and culture of the nation (which was a fishing-based economy until only recently), so they are the most dedicated sailing kids I've ever taught.

So, disbursing the scholarships so far has been tricky. At first, we sent home notes, saying something like, your child has expressed interest in our Wednesday sailing class, the cost for this class is X, but we provide partial or full scholarships that you may request by calling 555-555.

That got zero responses. Forms, in all their incarnations are very foreign here, and not received well. Alternatively, there are some kids who we know could not come up with even a fraction of the money to join the program, so we comp'd them. I know with any educational program, getting the parents involved is key, and we've had some success with that. But contacting some of the parents can be quite difficult at times, as they may be "off-island" for indefinite periods of time, they may work irregular hours, or they just don't see any value in the program. Speaking with the kids about this can have it's own challenges, like explaining a scholarship to an 8-year old who has no noticeable parental role other than a 13 year old brother. It seems unfair to exclude kids because their parents aren't responsive to their interest in the sailing club, but we also can't just say if you don't pay, Ta-da! you have a scholarship. That is setting the fund up to be abused, and the program taken for granted, and we don't have a ton of funds.

Has anyone had similar scholarship programs where you had small scholarships to give out to kids in a youth recreation program? I've considered making the monthly price $5 instead of $40, and then stating to the involved parents that the suggested price is $40, which many are glad to pay. Or, we could say the scholarship will cover $30 of $40, and you can come work for a few Saturday mornings, and earn the $10. Any stories of similar programs and solutions would be very helpful. I don't assume that there will be an exact answer, but I'd like to hear if you've gone through a similar experience and what your solution is.
posted by conch soup to Education (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could you just award scholarships based on personal interviews? This doesn't have to be very formal. Just talk to the kids and see if it sounds like those options would work. It's not unlike the way some emergency food banks work.
posted by acoutu at 2:07 PM on March 10, 2007

I like Acoutu's idea. Expanding on it, having spent enough time in Central America and Cuba to make broad generalizations (and probably be wrong), my feeling is that people living in that region respond to social rituals and respect.

Rather than encouraging parents of interested children to submit an application, would it be possible for you to write a personal letter to parents, asking if you could come over to meet them? Even a form letter with their name and your signature on it might do it, follow up with a friendly phone call. During your personal visit, if you need to forms to get get your limited gov't funding, you might help them fill them out- or just talk to them about their situation and about the benefits of your program.

Sounds like a great idea, and a rewarding program to be involved in!
posted by arnicae at 3:15 PM on March 10, 2007

So the issue is that you'd like to allow some really interested kids to sail for free, or near-free. Is there any compelling reason to call it a "scholarship" or make any disbursement to the kids or families at all?

Alternatively, there are some kids who we know could not come up with even a fraction of the money to join the program, so we comp'd them.

That sounds like a good way to run it.

we also can't just say if you don't pay, Ta-da! you have a scholarship.

Why not?

That is setting the fund up to be abused, and the program taken for granted...

Ach so. Hmm. Well, one thing you learn when you study economics is that not every incentive that's set up actually results in a lot of behavior to exploit that incentive. Have you run into any abuse of the funds so far, or kids taking the program for granted? I guess I'm more or less in acoutu's camp: if the kids are coming around anyway, or if they would be, couldn't you just let the staff informally evaluate who's committed and who's taking the program for granted, and base your fee waivers on those evaluations? I don't see why it needs to be any more complicated than that.
posted by rkent at 5:30 PM on March 10, 2007

One time-honored option would be to let the kids who can't afford to pay the $40 "work" for their scholarship. I put "work" in quotations, because you don't need to be extracting great amounts of work from them (scraping barnacles, say), but rather a symbolic amount of "work" that lets you weed out the slacker freeloaders, and lets them think that they aren't getting something for nothing. There is always the concern that there will be a stigma of being a "scholarship kid" who has to work for his or her keep, while richer kids have fun, but if you set up the work as fun and rewarding this can be minimized, to at least a certain extent.

I have never been to Anguilla (which is where the coordinates in your profile take me), but I have worked on other islands nearby. My experience is that the way you have productive relationships is via personal contact, personal contact, and more personal contact. Don't send a note home with the kid or rely on the phone --- you will need to invest the (many) hours of your time going and chatting with the parents, or the grandparents, or whoever is taking care of the kid, to explain what is going on, what the expectations are, etc. This only works if you are dealing with a fairly small set of kids --- if you have hundreds in the program, you will either need to delegate the family visits (but kids who have been in the program for a while will be the best at this, and if you are out recruiting parents, bringing well-respected kids already in the program will give you a foot in the door), or to utilize the mass media to publicize the program.
posted by Forktine at 9:30 PM on March 10, 2007

I don't know if this is the kind of program that ends or kids become ineligible for at a certain age or anything, but I've been involved with teen programs where the "graduating" kids -- the ones who are leaving -- are given the responsibility to decide which new kids get the available scholarships.

Of course, this presumes the kids are mature and responsible enough to take it seriously. In our case, we were always pleasantly surprised by the kids' abilities to take it seriously and make good choices. They cared so much about the program, that they saw the scholarships as precious gifts, and gave careful thought to who they gave them to.

This idea also presumes that there's a clear pool of applicants, and it doesn't sound like that's necessarily the case with your program...
posted by nadise at 1:36 AM on March 11, 2007

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