Jamie Ward has spent 11 years counseling Wyandanch High School students, advocating for them to be exposed early on to the benefits of higher education.
After years of bringing high school and middle school students to visit local college campuses, requiring them to practice submitting college applications and attend orientations, she was recognized for her efforts — and was determined to turn it into another teaching moment.
On March 2, she’s bringing 50 female students and four chaperones with her to accept a leadership award at her alma mater, Monmouth University in West Long Beach, N.J.
“I was excited to be selected [on Jan. 24],” said Ward, a 1997 graduate of Monmouth University who played on the women’s basketball team. “How many people are asked back to their college to be recognized?”
Ward thought it would be the perfect opportunity to expose more students to a college campus, so she urged the community to help raise $2,500 to pay for a charter bus, meals and T-shirts.
“We’re trying to establish a college culture at Wyandanch High School," Ward said. “I want them to start thinking, ‘If she can do it, why can’t I do it?’”
Ward still needs to raise $600, but has already acquired enough to cover transportation with the help of Geoffrey Canada, chief executive of Harlem Children's Zone, which aims to increase high school and college graduation rates among students in Harlem.
The university selected her and three others to receive this year’s Rebecca Stafford Leadership Award, which will be presented to them on the university’s annual Girls and Women in Sports Day. That day, the Wyandanch students will tour the campus, participate in a conference on leadership and confidence and end the day watching a basketball game.
“The goal is to tie academics with athletics with the end goal of getting these students excited about attending college,” Ward said. “This is an opportunity for them to see something positive and take their future more seriously."
It will be Asriel King’s second time visiting the campus, an important part of the college search process Ward frequently urges students to do. The 11th grader at Wyandanch High School is also enrolled in Farmingdale College’s Smart Scholars Program, studying media production.
“She’s a huge help because she comes to classrooms and talks to us about the college process and introduces us to programs that will prepare us,” King, 17, said of Ward. “She’s the type of person you know her office is always open.”
After Ward brought King and a group of students to tour Monmouth University in October 2011, she required students to bring home an application to the university and fill it out for practice.
“It’s scary going out on your own, but now I feel OK because she’s helping us prepare and I know what’s waiting for me,” King said. “She just wants to make sure we all succeed.”
Susan DeKalb, Ward’s former college basketball coach at Monmouth, described her as selfless, and the type of person who would step out from the spotlight and instead focus on what her students have accomplished.
"This award recognizes former players that have gone out in the community, by either coaching or giving back to young people," said DeKalb, 56, of Middletown N.J. "Jamie exposes her students to higher education. She wants them to know that they can be anything they want to be. I think it's important she gives them that hope."
Marilyn McNeil, vice president and director of athletics of Monmouth University for 19 years, explained that the award is named after a former university president who strived to promote women's athletics on campus.
"Jamie has made quite a difference in her community,” McNeil said. “You can see just by what she's trying to do to get all these students here to share in that award."