Mann Scholars: (L-r) Evan Yang, 2015 East High School graduate currently attending Madison College; Diamond Spikes and Wayu Bedaso, 2015 LaFollette graduates currently attending UW-Milwaukee

Dreams of going to college are becoming closer to reality everyday for Madison Memorial High School seniors Francine and Alisha, who plan to study law and international business, respectively. These inspiring students are on track to graduate in 2016 ready to step into the world of college and, eventually, their careers.

Along with support from their families, friends, and school staff, Alisha and Francine credit the Mann Scholars Program for playing an integral role in guiding them through their high school journey and preparing them for the next steps.

The Mann Scholars Program selected their first two scholars in 1998 to honor the late Bernard and Kathlyn Mann, long-time Madison residents and strong advocates for high-quality and equitable educational opportunities for all students enrolled in MMSD. Family and close friends witnessed them guide, encourage, and support their five children, all of whom successfully graduated from high school and went on to attain college degrees.

The Mann Scholars Program is carried out by the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund Board of Directors in partnership with the Madison Metropolitan School District and the Madison Community Foundation. The founders of this program realized that education, while no longer separate, had remained unequal for decades in regard to graduation rates for minority students. They chose to partner with the Madison Metropolitan School District(MMSD) to begin to bridge the gap in opportunity for promising minority students and their families.

The work of the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund Board of Directors and staff has been driven by their mission to provide mentoring support and educational tools primarily, but not exclusively, to students of color in MMSD who show potential for academic achievement, but face significant economic and personal challenges in reaching their full potential. They all agree that Bernie and Kathy would be very pleased with the program and proud of the accomplishments of each Mann Scholar.

Francine’s mother Debra believes the program is opening doors for her daughter, already a conscientious student. “As a mother, I have always had much confidence in Francine and her decisions, so when she was accepted into the Mann Scholars Program, I just knew that she would be provided with opportunities that she may not have otherwise had,” Debra says.

“Through the program she has matured, she is responsible and she knows how to manage her time. It is beautiful to see her grow,” she adds, beaming.

Francine agrees: “It has had a big impact on my life,” she says, adding that she feels high school “would have been difficult if I was not a Mann Scholar.” Throughout the last few years, “There were times that were rough, but having the program to back me up was incredibly helpful.”

Francine and her mother Debra
Francine and her mother Debra

Every year, each Madison middle school nominates one eighth grade student for the Scholar selection process. Nominees must demonstrate an investment in their education, strong attendance, involvement in activities, a desire to go to college and financial need. All nominees and their families participate in an interview process where three to five students are selected to become Mann Scholars while attending one of the four MMSD high schools.

Scholars are awarded an annual scholarship for each year of high school that can be used for academic support needs. These may include one-on-one tutoring, a home computer, athletic and extracurricular activity fees or the cost of career exploration and college applications. All program and scholarship funds are privately raised and housed at the Madison Community Foundation.

Throughout high school Mann Scholars also have the opportunity to build skills they will need beyond the school setting — financial literacy, community leadership, organizational techniques and career exploration, among others.

Alisha is one student who benefitted, both academically and emotionally, from working with long-term tutors, who also occasionally serve as a life coach through all four years of high school. “High school is like a roller-coaster with many ups and downs,” she says. “If it weren’t for the the tutors and services provided by the program it would have been mostly downs.”

Mann Scholar Alisha
Mann Scholar Alisha

The Mann Scholar Program celebrates a 100% high school graduation rate with a total of 47 Scholars successfully graduating high school over the past 17 years. Sixteen Mann Scholars have earned college degrees, with three going on to earn master’s degrees. Twelve former scholars, including one doctoral student, are currently pursuing post-secondary education.

Amy Wallace has served as the Mann Scholars Coordinator since 2000. This program thrives on the full participation of each Scholar, their family, community volunteers and the support of staff at each high school. She sees her key role as “supporting Scholars but allowing students to realize their own potential that then defines their future goals and career path.” The results, she notes, are gratifying, pointing to former scholars who visit after high school to check in with her and speak to new scholars.

Alisha says those visits from former scholars have stuck with her. “I am amazed at how Mann Scholars can stay with you through life. I see former students come back from college to visit and meet new scholars. It is so nice to hear their experiences. I am really amazed by that. I can’t wait to be a mentor for future Mann scholars.”