When Samantha Turnquest moved with her family from New York City to Syracuse, she had big plans for her education. But she was faced with one major roadblock: affordability. Her mother worked full-time to support her and her three brothers and Samantha felt overwhelmed by the daunting responsibility of paying for college alone.
“If you don’t have opportunity, it’s hard to see a vision for yourself,” Turnquest said.
This is a common problem for students in the Syracuse City School District (SCSD), where half of the students live in poverty. Say Yes to Education was introduced in Syracuse eight years ago to help the community come together around a common goal: increasing post-secondary educational attainment for the city’s children.
This community-wide partnership provides SCSD students with a path to college in the form of last-dollar scholarships. Say Yes also provides other supports, from legal and health services to mental health support and after-school programs.
The Community Foundation contributed $2 million to Say Yes and provides ongoing convening support, fiscal management and strategic guidance. We administer the Say Yes Scholarship Endowment Fund, which provides perpetual funding for the scholarships.
Bolstered by community support and substantial grants from SRC, Inc., the City of Syracuse and Central New York Regional Economic Development Council, the fund is now fully endowed at $30 million, creating a path to college for generations of SCSD students to come.
We can already see the impact of this promise. The district has witnessed a 14% jump in its overall high school graduation rate since 2008. And in 2016, 64% of both Caucasian and African-American students graduated from high school, showcasing the elimination of a previous gap between the academic achievement of white and black students.
Say Yes came to Turnquest’s school, the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School, just in time. She was able to attend the University of Albany, graduating this year with a biology degree. She has plans to pursue physical therapy or public health.
“Say Yes cares about your future beyond the classroom,” she said. “Their support makes you want to go further in your education. No matter what path I pursue, I’m going to make sure I’m always giving back to pay it forward for the help I received.”