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White House official urges Roosevelt students to aim for college

Khalilah M. Harris, right, deputy director of the

Khalilah M. Harris, right, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, visited Roosevelt High School on Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, to discuss access to higher education for minorities. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A White House official charged with expanding higher education opportunities for minority students offered these lessons Friday to Roosevelt High School teens: It’s never too early to plan for college; and it’s up to you to achieve your goals.

“Don’t wait until you get to your senior year to figure out how to get into the college you want to get into,” advised Khalilah M. Harris, a Brooklyn native who is deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

“Don’t wait on the adults to come and hold your hand to get there,” she said. “You have to be proactive.”

During the candid forum, Harris shared practical tips, such as how to access federal financial aid forms, but also spoke to the personal aspirations of students.

In asking teens about their career goals, some said they want to be a doctor, police officer or journalist.

Chukwuma Ukwu, an 18-year-old senior, said he wanted to be a presidential candidate. He appreciated Harris’ “words of wisdom” encouraging his goal of going to college.

Harris is on Long Island for a teen summit at Adelphi University on Saturday, organized by the Nassau County chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc., a nonprofit that encourages philanthropic awareness in children. The group helped organize Harris’ talk in Roosevelt.

The White House initiative was launched by President Barack Obama in 2012 to address the lack of equal access to high-quality education for African American students. The goal is to identify practices to improve student achievement and develop a national network to share techniques.

Roosevelt schools have made efforts to boost college readiness in one of Long Island’s poorest areas. The district participates in the national Smart Scholars program that helps students obtain free college credit and tutoring while in high school. Roosevelt’s students have partnered with SUNY Old Westbury.

Roosevelt High seniors attend an October ceremony where they commit not only to graduating but applying to a four-year college.

Harris also detailed two of first lady Michelle Obama’s education outreach efforts: the Reach Higher initiative and the Better Make Room public-awareness campaign. The initiative aims to inspire every student in America to continue their education past high school. The campaign, targeting teens ages 14-19, reaches students through social media.

Part of the efforts call for a sign-in rally day for seniors who have been accepted by a college, Harris said. Roosevelt officials agreed to host such a rally in the spring.

Harris emphasized that students do not need to be accepted to an Ivy League school for validation. She graduated from Morgan State University in Baltimore and earned a law degree from the University of Maryland.

Instead, she encouraged Roosevelt students to make the most of their college experience.

“Harvard does not make you brilliant,” she said.

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