Article re-posted with permission from bentonspiritnews.com
By Ralph Heibutzki and Princella E. Tobias, Spirit Correspondents
Every dream needs a helping hand to reach a higher level – which is exactly what Devontae Driver received recently from Benton Harbor Charter School Academy (BHCSA), in becoming the first recipient of its $5,000 Nesbitt-Brown Scholarship.
For Devontae, 18, the money comes as an early Christmas gift that will allow him to continue pursuing his dream of becoming a graphic designer – and eventually open his own agency, and start his own clothing line.
However, the award wouldn’t have happened without the hard work that characterized Devontae’s nine years at BHCSA, as BHCSA Principal Tim Harris noted. “He embodies everything that I asked for you guys to embody – and that is, being a great student, coming to school prepared,” Harris said, during the check presentation ceremony, where seventh and eighth graders were present, along with Devontae’s family. “I promise, if you come to school every day – and prepare to do what we ask you to do – you can’t fail.”
Board President Jean Nesbitt voiced similar feelings. “Devontae is extremely ambitious and deeply committed to developing his skills in art,” Nesbitt said. “He’s a role model to others. Let me repeat that – a role model to others. That is very important.”
After spending nine years of his elementary schooling at BHCSA, Devontae continued his high school education at the Dream Academy High School and eventually graduated from Eau Claire High School, and now, is a student at Southwestern Michigan College.
Devontae kept his own comments low-key, telling the room full of seventh and eighth graders in attendance, “Seventh, eighth graders – anything is possible. You can do it if you just put your mind to it. Work hard, stay in school, be focused. Stay focused.”
Devontae’s mother, Vina Driver – who raised him as a single parent – shared in the excitement. She attended the ceremony with her other two sons, Tommy, and Chris. “If it weren’t for Benton Harbor Charter School, I don’t think he would be where he is now, in college, and doing excellent in college,” Vina said, after the ceremony. “It’s a blessing, because the first year, I was helping him with the bills. It was a struggle, at first – but I told him, ‘Don’t give up, because you’re going to college!’ The $5,000 scholarship is a miracle, and I’m so happy.”
Birth of the Scholarship
The scholarship money became possible through a donation from Dr. Sid Faucette, president of BHCSA’s management company, Choice Schools Associates and intended to recognize those people who worked to make BHCSA a reality, including Glenda Bell; Pastor Walter Brown, Linda Fearnow, Betty Mason, Willie Mitchell, and Jean Nesbitt, who were the original board members. Terri Mays is now a board member.
Faucette worked with board members Saundra Lynch and Robert Snyder to get the scholarship program going. However, Faucette kept one thing in mind when he first started discussing the proposed scholarship with Nesbitt, he said.
“There is one thing that Jean Nesbitt says 100 percent of the time, “Always, do what’s right for the children of Benton Harbor Charter School and how can we connect with their families?” Faucette said. “When her testimonial is written, I think her testimonial will be about, ‘she was doing the right things for the right reason – and that is to make your life better, to give you better opportunity, to go do the things that you want to do with your dreams’.”
BHCSA officials announced the scholarship in August – which is needs-based, and open to any student who has attended BHCSA for at least two years. The funds are intended to help recipients offset the costs of continuing their education, whether it happens at a community college, four-year college or university, or trade school.
In Devontae’s case, he still has plenty of education left – starting with another year at Southwestern Michigan College. “The scholarship will take care of his school books, his dorm, and the rest of the bill that comes along with it,” Vina said. “Then he’s going to Chicago – matter of fact, he got approved for the Art Institute of Chicago the same day he got approved for SMC.”
The applicant must also complete an essay, which plays a major role in the scholarship awards committee’s final decision.
“Just Stay Involved”
The sense of what’s at stake isn’t far from his mind, as Devontae stated in his essay. “Going further than a high school diploma will determine you as a person, meaning, you will push yourself further for a higher education and obtain more knowledge and becoming a better person, or you will stop, and not pursue into a higher education,” Devontae said, in part. “I make sure I put in 100% effort in the work I do, because if you do not put a lot of effort in the activities or work you do, then that means you didn’t put too much effort in what you do, or you didn’t care.”
At the scholarship check presentation, the Benton Spirit asked several students what they aspire to become, the following are their responses:
Vina Driver counts herself among those who worked behind the scenes to help keep her son focused. “They’d see me coming through the door, and they knew who I was,” Vina said, laughing. “They’d say, ‘Here comes Ms. Driver!’ I was very active in the school. I came to all the plays and events at Benton Harbor Charter School that they had. Every school he (Devontae) went to, all the teachers loved him – because he’s so respectful and considerate of other kids.”
An Important Message from a Mother
For mothers like herself, who face similar struggles, Vina Driver offers simple, heartfelt words of encouragement. “I know sometimes it’s hard – if you can keep that child going, keep the motivation going, encourage them – school is a good thing to be in,” Vina said. “Just stay focused on what you have to do with your student, and with your child. Just keep on encouraging them, and keep that spirit of God in your life. You’ll pull through. You’ll make it. And, also, most important – be involved with your child. Just be involved. That will let the child know that you care.”
Keeping the Dream Alive
The chance to lay a foundation for future academic success – which is the scholarship’s major intent – marks an exciting new chapter for a school that began as a dream in 1998, Nesbitt recalled. “Today, all of you sitting in this room are part of keeping our dream very much alive,” Nesbitt said. “Benton Harbor Charter School Academy is thriving… It’s a safe environment that helps give you everything you need to pursue your dreams. I’m so grateful that you love this school as much as I do.”