Navarros’ scholarships provide good news for local students, community

June 13, 2021 - MSS In The News

Brian Hicks | Post and Courier

Kaiasia Williams is an impressive young woman by any standard.

She will graduate from Burke High this week with a resume that includes a long list of awards for academic achievement and leadership skills, multiple wins in engineering competitions and four years with the Student Government Association.

That’s all the more amazing because Williams is the first person in her family to graduate from high school — and she’s done it while tutoring, babysitting and taking other jobs to help her mother pay the bills.

Even with such stellar credentials, Williams had no guarantee of fulfilling her dream to study engineering at Clemson … until Ben and Kelly Navarro’s Meeting Street Scholarship Fund came along.

The Charleston entrepreneurs/philanthropists in December announced plans to pay $10,000 a year toward the cost of higher education for any Charleston County high school graduate who qualifies for a state lottery scholarship and a federal Pell Grant — and attends a college that graduates at least half its students within six years.

This generous program puts a degree within reach for students who have strong academic records but probably otherwise couldn’t afford to go to college without taking on a mind-numbing amount of student debt.

The price of tuition at most universities has far outpaced incomes in the past two decades. Which means Pell Grants, which are based on family income, and lottery scholarships, which are awarded on academic merit, don’t cover a full ride at a good college these days. But an extra $10,000 a year fills that gap nicely.

So it’s not an overstatement to say the Meeting Street Scholarship Fund is a life-changer.

“Throughout my high school career, one of my biggest worries was how would I be able to afford college,” Williams says. “To me, this is the only way to break the cycle. My mother has always supported my efforts, but unfortunately, she cannot afford my college fees.”

The qualifying period for the first batch of scholarships runs through August, and some students are awaiting their final grades to ensure they meet the requirements. But more than 300 have started a Meeting Street Scholarship Fund application to check their eligibility. Early estimates are that at least 75 new graduates are assured of making the final cut.

That includes Allen Gomez, who will graduate West Ashley High this week with a 4.543 GPA and two-dozen college credits he’s already earned. Gomez is a first-generation American who had to move to Ecuador with his family in 2010 because of the recession.

After spending most of his elementary years in Ecuadorian schools, where he had to learn Spanish, he returned to the United States as a sixth-grader with some catching up to do — particularly in English and social studies.

Gomez earned excellent grades throughout school while also playing championship soccer for West Ashley … and working construction full time during the summers. He plans to one day become a surgeon.

“I expect the Meeting Street scholarship to change my life because it will allow me to pursue my secondary education without taking out student loans, which is a huge help for my family,” Gomez says. “It has given me hope.”

And that’s what this scholarship fund is supposed to do. The Navarros’ Meeting Street Academy schools have proven that with the right mix of curriculum, staff and parental involvement, any child can overcome the opportunity gap. The test scores bear that out.

Now, the Navarros have ensured that some of those same students can continue their education at South Carolina universities.

“We are inspired by the impressive group of students who will receive the inaugural Meeting Street Scholarship, and are thankful for the families and the educators who have supported them along the way,” Ben Navarro says. “Their hard work and perseverance have gotten them to this point, and we’re proud to be part of their journey going forward as they reach their full potential by achieving their college dream.”

That includes Kyla Hutchinson, who will graduate from Burke High this week with 18 credits from Trident Technical College under her belt, a feat she managed while also working at a local Chick-fil-A. The Meeting Street scholarship will allow her to attend Winthrop, where she plans to study mass communication and one day become a writer.

“I felt like I had been released from an overwhelming burden,” Hutchinson says. “My family and I won’t have to worry about how I will pay for college.”

That’s not just good for Kyla; it’s good for the entire Charleston community. And frankly, we were due some good news.

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