Some DC-area kids will get big bucks to graduate high school

Graduating high school is a big deal for everyone, but it can be a bigger deal in some communities than others. As part of a push to both close the wealth gap in minority communities and incentivize kids in low-income neighborhoods to get their high school diplomas, a new savings program is being piloted for a select group of students in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

The Brilliant Futures program, launched by the Greater Washington Community Foundation, will support students who just finished kindergarten and this fall’s incoming kindergarten class from Jackson Road Elementary in the White Oak area, as well as incoming kindergartners this fall and next fall at Bradbury Heights Elementary in Capitol Heights.

Those kids, up to 400 total, will be provided special savings accounts. The foundation will put up to $1,000 a year into each account until they graduate high school. If fundraising meets expectations, then each kid will have up to $13,000 in their accounts once they graduate.

“At graduation, graduation is the trigger, they are able to begin to redeem the invested funds to use toward their college education or postsecondary education,” said Tonia Wellons, the president and CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. “They can use it to put toward a qualified retirement program. They’ll be able to access it for down payment assistance when they’re purchasing their first home, or they’ll be able to redeem it for entrepreneurial pursuits.”

Wellons said it’s an incentive program backed by information.

“There’s so much data that shows that whenever a kid has an account in their name, from as early as third grade, their academic accomplishments increase, their attendance improves and their graduation rates continue to excel and improve as well,” said Wellons. “They’re more likely — four times more likely — to go on to postsecondary education than students who do not have an account of any size in their name.”

But beyond those incentives, as well as providing a nest egg to students who otherwise aren’t likely to have one by the time they leave high school, Wellons said it also provides the foundation’s nonprofit partners with more opportunity to connect with families as they utilize services those groups provide. That, in turn, aims to strengthen not just the students, but their entire families.

The students enrolling into this program are eligible for free and reduced meal services, and in terms of race, are about 90% Black and Hispanic. The schools were chosen because they’re in what the foundation considers high-opportunity priority neighborhoods with lower incomes, lower life expectancies and lower rates of homeownership.

“We’ve seen the transformative impacts of well-executed programs that provide savings for young people and adults alike,” said Millard House II, superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools, in a statement released by the foundation. “We hope that by supporting students with a down payment on life, whether that goes toward funding a college tuition, starting a small business, or buying a house, this program will level the playing field, promoting racial and financial equity in the Greater Washington region.”

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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