The Elizabeth Wesley Youth Merit Incentive Award Program has awarded scholarships to African American students since 1996.
Students in ninth through 12th grade in Pierce County with a grade-point average of 2.5 or better can apply for the $350 scholarship, said Gerald Denman, chief officer of equity and achievement for the Puyallup School District. Students can also apply multiple years.
“(Elizabeth Wesley) believed in students achieving well, especially minority students, and giving them a leg up and a chance,” Denman said.
Denman said the award was named for Wesley, who was an activist in the Puget Sound. The Puyallup School District began awarding the scholarships in 2006.
“We only had 14 students apply at that time, and Dr. (Tony) Apostle and I had a conversation about how we could go about changing that number,” Denman said. “Since that time, our highest number was 74 students. We’ve really turned that around.”
The superintendent’s cabinet approached the administrative team for help to raise funds for the scholarship, and they came up with the idea of putting on an auction at the annual administrative conference.
The donations came from the administrators and from their contacts in the community, Denman said.
“It is a community event where people graciously donate items to the auction, and then the administrators bring their own items as well,” he said.
Through that effort, the administrative office raised nearly $11,000 last year, and they hope to exceed that amount this year. The auction takes place at the annual conference in August.
“I’m extremely proud of our administrators and their effort to support that population of our students,” Denman said. “My hat goes off to them. They really do a bang-up job in putting it on.”
Denman said staff members share with the students just what Elizabeth Wesley stood for and what she would want to see them do with their scholarship money.
“I’ve personally gone to visit all of those buildings where students have received the award and shared the history with them,” he said. “It is really important that they understand that we want them to spend the money toward post-secondary education.”
For more information or to donate to the auction, call the Puyallup School District Office of Equity and Achievement at 253-840 8966.Joan Cronk is a freelance reporter for the Herald.