Helping students attend college for free

JAZELLE HUNT | 9/15/2014, 9:24 a.m.
As middle-aged parents, Norma Richards, a veteran science teacher, and her husband were only halfway through raising six children. Facing ...
Norma Richards

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As middle-aged parents, Norma Richards, a veteran science teacher, and her husband were only halfway through raising six children. Facing the daunting responsibility of putting their three through college in close succession, Richards felt it was time to get proactive.

Today, those two daughters and one son have each earned engineering degrees at well-known universities on full academic scholarships. Her guidebook, Free Ride to College, shows parents and high school seniors how to position themselves for the same good fortune.

“I have saved close to half a million dollars in college expenses,” Richards writes. “Now that I have an empty nest, I am on a mission to help other families achieve free rides to college too.”

The crux of Richards’ pointers comes in the chapter titled, “A Competitive Student Profile – the Fuel for a Full Academic Ride.” In it, she details what a student should have accomplished by the end of junior year in order to attract scholarship offers, including community service, high test scores, strong admissions essays, etc.

But the road to a full ride begins well before high school.

“As a parent, I took responsibility for my child’s education, and saw school as a supplement. I didn’t homeschool them, but I made sure they were constantly learning … and I made learning fun from the beginning,” Richards said.

This began with making reading a priority. Richards put labels on objects around the house to improve vocabulary, and offered them small rewards as they committed the words and spellings to memory. For comprehension, she chatted with her children about the stories they read together. During the summer, they signed up for reading programs at the library, which offered prizes as kids read a certain number of books.

The importance of reading is universal, but is especially crucial for Black children. Research shows that literacy by fourth grade is an indicator for high school completion, among other things; Black children have significantly lagged behind their White counterparts on national reading measures for years.

Raising a Black child comes with unique considerations. In Richards’ case, schools told her one of her children had ADHD; another was labeled special education; and the third was legally blind by middle school. Black children are at a higher risk for all of these challenges than are White children.

In response, Richards asked the teacher to allow her child labeled with ADHD to stand or move while working, if needed, and refused medical intervention. That child eventually rose to top of the class and the label was forgotten. She got tutors for her child placed in special education, and eventually that child outgrew the need for them. And of course, a pair of glasses for the child with vision problems resulted in increased academic success.

“I never told my children they had been labeled as these things. Get help if your child needs it – don’t be in denial – but don’t label your child. Find out how your child learns. Early intervention is important,” Richards said.