Whitehaven High School celebrates 'million dollar scholars'

Whitehaven High School had a successful year.

In April, 51 seniors at Whitehaven were awarded at least $1 million worth of academic scholarships, taking home the title of “million dollar scholars.” Not only that, but some received up to $4 million in scholarships, prompting a celebration that was held at the school to individually acknowledge and announce the students' triumph.

The school spends a majority of the year focusing solely on preparing their students for college. Since 2003, seniors at Whitehaven have received more than $346 million in scholarships to various schools like the University of Memphis and Rhodes College, to name a few.

Gherica Ford, who will be a senior in the fall at Whitehaven, knows how hard the principals and counselor’s work to help serve the students at her school.

“The entire staff at Whitehaven can be applauded for our academic success,” Ford said.  “The counselors and principals really work with each student to make sure we’re successful meeting our goals.  For example, each senior is required to have 20 acceptance letters in their senior portfolios. "

The secret to the school's success? Whitehaven focuses on hard work and commitment.  As a school that serves students who are at an economic disadvantage with a disproportionately high number of students who live in extreme poverty, as well as those who have disabilities, Whitehaven ensures that all of their students can overcome anything.

“Our principal, Dr. Hunter, is truly helpful, as well,” Ford said. "No matter how busy he may be, he always makes time to talk to us and motivate us. Our education and success, even beyond high school, is his main priority. The students can also be credited for the success. While our counselors and principals do inspire and assist, it is up to us to ultimately work hard enough and be self-motivated in order to reach our set goals.”

The high school is also involved with the Peer Power Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on preparing students for life post-graduation. With Peer Power Foundation college students as well as top performing high school students tutor younger students with goals to improve their standardized test scores. They also seek to improve students overall college and job readiness.

“The college students actually assist in the classroom and pass along to us some of the college skills they’ve obtained,” Ford said.  

And while the students are gaining new knowledge of what life will be life after high school, the college tutors are also gaining insight to the professional world, as well.

Madison Culpepper, junior at the University of Memphis, is a success coach that works directly with the students at Whitehaven through the Peer Power Foundation. She works mostly with the freshman and sophomore students at Whitehaven in an Algebra 1 classroom.

“It is my job to be a little bit of a liaison between the teacher and the students as well as aiding the teacher with tasks in their classroom,” Culpepper said. “We help to decrease the student to teacher ratio so the students have more of a one-on-one relationship and a higher success rate.”

The foundation aims for their students to attain a strong academic success for a bright future.

“Since working at Whitehaven, I have seen a growth in the students’ confidence that it is possible, if they work hard, for them to go to college,” Culpepper said.  “I would have to say that that is also the most rewarding part of the job. I love seeing my students’ confidence grow in themselves and their abilities. Not only in algebra but in life in general.”

Culpepper is one of many students involved in the Peer Power Program. Along with the University of Memphis, the Peer Power Program also partners with various Shelby County schools. The program aims to create the "Memphis Model."

“The Memphis Model is a long term plan that aims to increase the success of Memphis students city-wide,” Culpepper said.

And it seems that so far, the Model is doing just that.

Read more articles by Lauren Berry.

Lauren Berry is a junior journalism student at the University of Memphis.  She enjoys writing news and feature stories and was fortunate to sit in as a member of the press at St. Jude’s Michelle Obama press conference this past fall.  This semester she will be studying magazine writing in Florence, Italy at Palazzi, Florence University of the Arts.  
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