by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — As they stepped through the front doors of Bishop Ward High School here on April 29, 17 students were greeted with roaring cheers from the crowd outside.
The congratulatory signs held up by those assembled revealed what the students had accomplished: They were winners of this year’s KC Scholars traditional scholarships.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Alexandra Robles, holding back tears. “I’m so grateful.”
“I was really excited,” echoed Marlyn Sandoval Cortez. “It was a mix of emotions.”
Although they knew the scholarship recipients would be announced that day, the Bishop Ward juniors were under the impression it wouldn’t be for a few more hours.
When they had time to take in what the news meant, they were floored.
The scholarship value the students received is up to $10,000 a year for up to five years — funds that will go toward a bachelor’s degree.
The students will be able to choose from 17 colleges and universities, with several in the Kansas City area.
Each year, KC Scholars grants at least 250 traditional scholarships to high school juniors who are eligible. They must meet a range of criteria in order to apply, including being considered from low- or modest-income families.
In recent years, Bishop Ward has been one of the most successful schools in the scholarship competition.
“We feel like we’re punching above our weight class,” said Bishop Ward president Jay Dunlap. “To get such a high proportion of [the scholarships] here at Bishop Ward is very exciting.”
Dunlap emphasized how important the school community is for the families it serves.
“Serving the students that we do here in KCK and Wyandotte County,” he said, “I sometimes feel like we’re the Gospel twice over. We’re Catholic education and all that means. But we’re also serving families in need.”
Many Bishop Ward students who receive scholarships are the first in their families to attend college.
“We know the kids come with dreams,” said Dunlap, “and we also know that so many of our students come from families that don’t have prior college experience.
“The students and the parents are learning together what that means, and that’s not always easy. But certainly, having scholarships of this magnitude . . . opens doors and simplifies everything.”
A well-oiled machine
Emily Saatcioglu, academic dean at Bishop Ward, was thrilled with the number of students who earned scholarships this year.
“The moment I find out 17 kids are going to college for sure — that they don’t have to worry about money anymore, that their families are going to be relieved of this incredible worry and burden — I’m beside myself with happiness,” she said.
Saatcioglu said shortly after KC Scholars awarded its first scholarships in 2017, Bishop Ward realized how fitting the opportunity is for its students.
A few years ago, the school created a mentoring program to match each student interested in a scholarship with a staff member who would support them through the process.
After Mary Kate Kelly, college and career counselor, joined the team, Bishop Ward launched a junior seminar class to encourage students to consider their postsecondary education plans.
Juniors who are eligible to apply for the KC Scholars traditional scholarship are enrolled in the class and receive guidance on the application process.
“That explains to my mind the increase in winners every year since then,” said Saatcioglu.
Saatcioglu discourages her students from avoiding college because of money. She said Bishop Ward is eager to help them find ways around financial challenges.
“I don’t want them to feel like they should settle,” she said. “I don’t want them to feel like because they’re children of immigrants, they can’t have the American dream, too.
“It means everything to help them with their futures.”
First in the family
Juan Lopez, a football player at Bishop Ward, was astonished when he realized he’d received a KC Scholars scholarship.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” he said. “With the amount of money I’ve gotten, it’s going to help a lot in terms of my college career and hopefully get me my degree.
“It shows that my work has been validated, and that, if I do push myself hard enough, it will eventually pay off.”
Heymyar Nay said she and her classmates couldn’t have done it without help from Kelly and Saatcioglu.
“It was great emotional support especially,” she said. “They were right there by our side, guiding us to get where we are now. I’m really grateful for them.”
As a first generation student, like many of her peers, Nay said the opportunity is “a big pathway for us to start our careers — something our parents always wanted for us when we came to America.
“They were our motivation for this scholarship. They were the reason that we pushed through this.”
To learn more about KC Scholars, visit the website at: kcscholars.org.
For more information on Bishop Ward, go online to: wardhigh.org.