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After Five Years of Secrecy, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Unveils 'Young Scholars' Program



June 28, 2002 (Washington, D.C.) The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation – the nation’s most generous individual scholarship program – is investing in 50 children designated as 2002 “Young Scholars.”

The diverse “first class” of Young Scholars, who have been “quietly tapped” in 24 states and Washington, D. C., are from families with modest means – some below the poverty level – because they show a “genuine thirst for learning,” aspiring to become physicians, physicists, and psychologists as well as musicians, mathematicians, and dramatists, as examples. Five of the students chosen for this first class come from the Foundation’s home-based region of Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

“Leonardo da Vinci was poor and came from a broken home, yet he became one of the world’s greatest geniuses. We are looking for Leonardo’s for our own time.” Said Dr. Matthew J. Quinn, the executive director of the Foundation, “Young people of modest means with great promise and a fire in their imagination to go on to do great things. Creativity isn’t defined by class or income.”

The Foundation has received hundreds of applications from eighth-graders living throughout the country and is now in the process of selecting students who will comprise the 2003 class that will be notified in November.

Quinn continued, “Just as the President is determined ‘to leave no child behind,’ the Foundation is committed to do what it can to make sure that no young person of exceptional promise is left behind because of his or her family’s income or his or her learning disability,” said Dr. Quinn.

The announcement of the Young Scholars program closely follows the May 2002 introduction of the first 50 graduate scholarship recipients who are each embarking on a graduate university program in their chosen fields, such as medicine, law, social work, and the arts. Each graduate student can receive as much as $50,000 per year for up to six years, for a total of $300,000. To be eligible, each Jack Kent Cooke graduate scholar must either live or attend school in Virginia, Maryland, or the District of Columbia.

A third major Foundation program will be officially unveiled later this year wherein 80 college undergraduates from throughout the country will be awarded scholarships valued at up to $30,000 per year to complete their undergraduate studies. Approximately half will be transferring from a community college to a four-year institution.

Overall, the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship program is designed so that students who become Young Scholars in eighth grade, for example, and who continue to excel academically can receive financial support through college and, for some, graduate school. “The Foundation will commit well over $100,000 per student in scholarship funding for most of these students to make sure that they have the best education possible so they can fulfill and develop their talent,” continued Dr. Quinn.

“In the ideal situation, a Scholar who continues to excel throughout high school and college could be eligible for a graduate scholarship of up to $50,000 a year for up to six years. It’s not inconceivable that one or more of our Young Scholars could end up receiving $500,000 from the Foundation over the course of their educational experience,” Dr. Quinn said. 

The “Young Scholars” program provides individualized educational services, including tutoring, summer program tuition, music and art lessons, and, for some, private school tuition to talented high-school-aged children across the country. On the average, each student will receive $15,000 per year in direct services and counseling support. Thus, the Foundation is committing approximately $3 million to this class of 50 students for their high school years and expects to provide a greater amount for their college tuition.

The Young Scholars program is unique because it focuses on the whole child, the whole day—not just from nine to three—and the whole year, the Foundation’s counselors emphasize.

In designing the Young Scholars program, the Foundation consulted representatives of both the gifted and talented community and advocacy groups for exceptional children – particularly to ensure that learning disabled children are not excluded from participation in the program.

Nancy Safer of the Council for Exceptional Children says that the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is “unique in providing unequalled opportunity for gifted children with learning disabilities – identifying these students in the eighth grade, working with them through high school, and preventing them from becoming discouraged.” She would like to see the “Young Scholars” program spur more Foundations to establish similar scholarship funds.

The Foundation is not releasing the names of the selected Young Scholars because “we believe it is in the best interest of the children to receive such support without public attention,” said Dr. Quinn.

Statistically, the average family income of the first class of Young Scholars is about $32,000; half come from single-parent households; 30 are female, 20 are male; and racially, 56 percent are Asian, Hispanic, and African-American. In some households, there are ill parents or only a grandparent. Some would be the first in their family to “ever attempt” a college degree.

All are academically excellent, including two children with physical disabilities that impact learning. “My disability, most of all, has taught me gratitude for others and acceptance of myself,” wrote one Young Scholar. The highest SAT score for an eighth grader was 1580 out of a possible 1600 in a test typically taken by 11th and 12th grade students.

Among the first class of Young Scholars are those who avidly play baseball and soccer as well as the piano, violin, flute, clarinet, and oboe; show keen abilities in math, engineering, biology, and ecology as well as strong aptitude for writing, drama, and choreography.

One is described as a peacemaker with strong leadership skills. A teenager with “very clear business goals” is thinking of ways to make space travel profitable. Another intends to become a physician and work with underprivileged children; a fourth Scholar is determined to become a pediatric surgeon; and another hopes to be a physics professor. A number of students have won top honors in literature, writing, math, science, chemistry, foreign languages, and music.

Several Young Scholars have already been enrolled in college courses; one 14-year-old, with paleontology as one interest, graduates from high school this month and will start college this fall.

Christopher T. Cross, senior fellow, Center on Education Policy and chair of a recent National Research Council study entitled, Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education, noted, “The Foundation is doing a wonderful thing in choosing so many disadvantaged and minority students. As our recent NRC report points out, minority students have historically been underrepresented in gifted and talented programs. This new initiative is quite exceptional. The counseling and scholarship support that the Foundation is making available is a very important aspect of their program.”

Four Talent Centers assisted in the selection of the first class of Young Scholars. These are the Johns Hopkins University, Center for Talented Youth, Baltimore, Maryland; Northwestern University Center for Talent Development, Evanston, Illinois; Duke University, Talent Identification Program, Durham, North Carolina; and University of Denver, Rocky Mountain Talent Search, Denver, Colorado.

“All four talent centers have a huge network of schools and educators to identify promising young people who are potential Young Scholars, plus kids can apply on their own as well,” said Linda Brody, a counselor with the Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. “These youngsters in our first class are all quite amazing.”

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is receiving more than $500 million in assets from Mr. Cooke’s estate and expects to provide approximately $25 million to support individual scholarships on an annual basis. The Foundation began operations in August 2000 with Dr. Quinn as founding executive director.

Jack Kent Cooke, who built a media empire and also owned the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Redskins, died in April 1997. He dreamed of a college education for himself, but had to drop out of high school to help his family weather the Great Depression.






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