Four graduating high school seniors from the Fort Worth school district have been awarded a special $2,000 scholarship for a special reason.
Nicole Padron, Elodia Perez, Joselin Pozos, and Marilin Pozos received the Full Circle Scholarship from Academy 4, a local nonprofit that aims to match all fourth graders in Title I schools with a mentor. The goal of the program that is in 16 schools in North Texas and Austin is for fourth graders in schools where at least 75% of students are low-income to form a healthy connection with an adult who can help and encourage them in their personal growth. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mentors and mentees met virtually online.
The four recipients were among the first class of fourth graders to receive mentors years ago. The students were not only mentees as fourth graders but also returned to the program as mentors themselves during their junior and senior years — hence making a “full circle” back to where they came from as kids.
In the scholarship application, the four students had a chance to reflect on their individual experiences.
“Memories came flowing when I finally met my mentee,” Perez said. “At first, it was hard for him to open up. However, as I encouraged him, he started talking about his interests and fun things he likes to do, like playing video games and dinosaur fossils. As soon as I saw that smile on his face, I knew that he was happy to have someone he could talk to about himself.”
Marilin Pozos, who wants to become a radiation therapist, believes that participating in the program has helped hone her skills for her future career.
“The things you least expect are oftentimes the things that impact your life the most,” she said. “Academy 4 has definitely affected my life in many ways, back in fourth grade and now, again, in my years of high school. My experience in this program will allow me to build bonds with my future patients and get them to interact with me while making them feel better physically and emotionally.”
Her sister, Joselin Pozos, plans to become an occupational therapist. She detailed how much the program has impacted her life.
“Being an Academy 4 mentor has changed my life forever,” she said. “It has been one of the biggest impacts in my life. My experiences as an Academy 4 mentor will serve me in the future by helping me with the way I contribute to kids’ skill development, interaction with kids, and how to make relationships with kids that will help with their development in the future. This program has helped me so much, and it will help so many more in the future.”
Padron shared that her mentee inspired her to follow her dreams.
“When reflecting on my experience as a mentor, I realized that I had lost that little spark that I used to carry,” she said. “Spending time with a fourth grader who has big aspirations, dreams, and assurance that they can accomplish anything led me to realize that I needed to start thinking about my future with a different perspective. I still had some thoughts that said I was dreaming a little too big. However, without my experience as a mentor, I would not have realized that I did.”
Academy 4 was started in 2012 by folks at St. Paul Lutheran Church, along with nearby Daggett Elementary. Since fourth grade is when most young ones become more open to new ideas, the founders chose that grade to begin their work.
Academy 4 Executive Director John Shearer shared how proud he was of the students and how much of an impact the program has made on them.
“As the scholarship says, it truly came full circle,” he said. “These kids who were poured into as fourth graders were now the ones pouring into fourth graders. There’s just really not a lot of words for that. It’s kind of overwhelming when I think about it. It’s just such a beautiful picture. They were able to receive this gift of time from a mentor and be encouraged, and now, as a young adult about to graduate high school, they were able to turn around and be the giver of that same gift. There’s just a beauty and a richness that we just didn’t want to go unnoticed. That’s why we created the scholarship aspect of our program, for students just like them.”
All four scholarship recipients will continue their education in the fall. Joselin Pozos will attend Texas Woman’s University, while her sister Marilin Pozos will be headed to The College of Health Care Professions. Meanwhile, Nicole Padron will attend Swarthmore College, and Elodia Perez will go to Boston College on a full scholarship.
The four students contributed much to the organization while proving that sometimes, it’s the small things that count.
“This experience has made and will continue to make me appreciate the little things, the small details, small acts, everything, and I am so very thankful for the opportunity you all gave me when I was 9 and the opportunities I have received once again since I was 16,” Marilin said. “We have come full circle.”