EDGEWATER — Two students from Senn High School in Edgewater are headed to college with $3,000 worth of financial help, all thanks to the kind hearts and passionate spirits of their classmates and community.
During the 2014-15 school year at Senn, the senior class student council set out to focus on the needs of their community. After a student suggestion, the council began taking up the cause of financial aid for undocumented classmates who wanted to go to college, but lacked access to the country's financial aid system many college-bound students rely on, said Alexander Roi, a counselor at Senn.
"The student council made it a point of: 'These are our students, we're all Senn students. It doesn't necessarily matter if you have a [green] card or not, you're getting your education, you could have been here since you were a one-year-old, we can do this together,'" Roi said.
By selling popcorn to the student and faculty bodies, sending each other personalized Halloween-themed gifts, gaining contributions from staff and inviting the community to take part in a pasta dinner fundraiser, the student council collected a combined pot of $3,000, which they separated into two $1,500 scholarships.
"That was money directly from the students, and they all knew what we were raising money for," he said.
Linze Rice talks about the students' efforts to help their classmates:
Staff and the student council worked together to create scholarship applications and then sent them out to students. Karla Nunez, the 17-year-old president of the student council, said she was surprised by the amount of responses they received — between 10-15 applications came back from eager college hopefuls.
Ultimately, a committee of teachers and leaders at Senn decided upon two young women, Nunez said, one of which will be attending Rogers Park's own Loyola University.
Roi said this year, students at Senn earned over $13.5 million in scholarships total and boasted a 96 percent graduation rate, with 98 percent of graduating seniors accepted to a college or university.
"One of the reasons we're doing this [scholarhip] is that we want to show the neighborhood that we are a good school, we're a Level 1 school, we're doing good things here," Roi said.
Still, the U.S. needs to change its policies on who can get financial aid, Nunez said.
"It's unfair, it's completely unfair. These are students just as capable, if not more capable than those who can get financial aid on their own. But without help, they don't stand a chance," she said.
Nunez said once a student suggested the topic for the year's fundraising endeavor, she felt a personal connection to the cause because she herself resides in the U.S. by way of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
"I never thought I'd go to college," said Nunez, who is heading to Middlebury College in Vermont to study physics on full scholarship in the fall. "You know, I had a perfect 4.0 GPA all four years; I had straight A's all four years; a 27 on my ACT, and I just never thought it would happen. It's sad."
Students who are undocumented, as well as those who are deferred action reciepients, like Nunez, are a "huge community" that needs more support, she said.
She said after being rejected for multiple scholarships, she "knew what it felt like" to have her access to education blocked at every turn.
"And, so, it's my right to support them," Nunez said.
When asked what inspired her to take on this yearlong project, she said she felt it was something "internalized" within her.
Nunez said she wants other students facing similar situations, or those looking to help, to know about the Hispanic Scholarship Fund — a program that serves undocumented students and students who live here under deferred action.
"It's something I'm really proud to say I did my senior year," she said. "I was able to help give scholarships to people who really, really need them."
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