Meeting Street Scholarship’s inaugural class goes to college with hope

August 4, 2021 - MSS In The News

Brian Hicks | Post and Courier

The four college-bound freshmen sat on a small stage, recalling the things that had brought them there.

Their stories were similar, whether they came from Stall High, James Island Charter, West Ashley or Wando. They all had GPAs north of 4.0, which they’d kept up throughout the advanced placement classes, the extracurricular activities, the part-time jobs they juggled alongside life’s general struggles.

A guidance counselor or someone in their family — a mother, an aunt or sibling — had pushed them to apply for a new scholarship that would allow them to pursue a college degree without taking on crushing debt. Some were skeptical, worried that despite all that hard work, it wouldn’t be enough.

“I got all A’s, well except for one B,” noted Tre’Shauna Williams, a West Ashley High graduate.

They were all just as impressive as Williams. And in a few weeks, they head off to college: Nine to Claflin, 29 to Clemson, a dozen to Winthrop, 24 to the University of South Carolina and 20 to the College of Charleston. One’s off to Columbia College; another will attend Furman. It felt a bit like graduation, but their journey is just beginning.

On Sunday, the first recipients of the Meeting Street Scholarships gathered on Daniel Island for brunch in their honor. And there were a lot of them. Nearly 100 Charleston County School District graduates qualified for the inaugural scholarship fund established by local philanthropists Ben and Kelly Navarro.

The scholarships provide $10,000 a year to any student who graduates from a Charleston County public school eligible for both a state education lottery LIFE scholarship, which is based on academic achievement, and a federal Pell Grant, which is based on financial need.

It’s an idea the Navarros just announced in December when these students were almost finished with the first semester of their senior year. “You didn’t know the scholarship would be here, but you did the work anyway,” Ben Navarro told the group. “I hope you’ll be optimistic about your future. I’m rooting for you.”

The Navarros are not only cheering on these young people, they’ve changed their lives. You see, lottery scholarships and Pell Grants won’t even cover tuition at most four-year colleges these days. And then there’s the ever-increasing cost of housing, food, and books.

For many people, higher education is simply impossible without going deeply into debt. The average person graduates college today owing nearly $30,000. But for these students, the Meeting Street Scholarships cover that gap.

“This scholarship was truly a blessing for me,” said Ivy Grinnage, a recent graduate of Early College High, who’s going to Winthrop to become a secondary education teacher. “This … takes away that stress of how are we going to pay for this.”

The 96 graduates who qualified for these scholarships this year represent a nearly $1 million investment from the Navarros — and that’s only for the first year. It’s impressive, but not surprising. The couple long ago proved their commitment to public education.

In 2008, the Navarros started Meeting Street Schools in Charleston. This public-private partnership with the school district was designed to overcome the opportunity gap, and it’s been a heartening success. The model began with Meeting Street Academy, which is privately funded and has since expanded to Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood and Burns Elementary, both public-private partnerships in North Charleston.

The success of their model is apparent in test scores. Meeting Street Academy Charleston students score on average in the 96th percentile on reading and the 94th percentile on math in state MAP testing. At Brentwood, students score in the 61st percentile on reading and the 75th percentile on math. Most Title I students in North Charleston score in the 23rd percentile.

“It’s the great equalizer,” U.S. Sen. Tim Scott said Sunday. “Meeting Street schools have shown that all kids have the ability to learn.”

These scholarships are the next step in the Navarros’ efforts to improve public education. Ben Navarro said the point behind the scholarships isn’t righting any economic wrong; it’s about growing the pie — giving more people a chance to succeed.

On Sunday morning, the Grand Lawn at LTP Daniel Island was filled with future teachers, engineers, and surgeons who were cheered on by their families, Charleston County School Board members and state lawmakers.

It was a scene that, in these dark times, inspires a little hope. And that’s appropriate because that’s just what the Navarros have given these young scholars.

Back to All Events and News