African-American students at Webster Groves High School have accepted the Webster Challenge to reduce the academic achievement gap between themselves and their Caucasian peers by 50 percent. The initiative focuses on academics, attendance and increasing student involvement in extra-curricular activities and community service.
“It’s exciting to see the degree to which our students, parents, faculty, staff and board members have embraced this initiative,” said Jon Clark, principal at Webster Groves.
The school’s classes of 2013-16 consist of 200 students who have accepted the Webster Challenge.
“Each class sets a group goal, and each individual student sets individual goals,” Clark said.
“Students who accepted the challenge have grade point averages that range from average to above average,” said Shiree Yeggins-Campbell, assistant principal at Webster Groves. “Our students range from first-generation graduates to parents who have multiple graduate degrees."
She stressed that the Webster Groves School District cares deeply about the academic and personal success of all students – regardless of race.
Yeggins-Campbell was one of many who formulated and implemented the initiative, which contributed to her earning the Peabody Energy Leaders in Education award for the 2009-10 school year.
“The entire staff is involved as mentors,” Clark said. “And we have more than 30 advisors, including Central Office administrators, board members, teachers and high school administrators.” Advisors monitor students’ progress on a weekly basis.
All students at the school have an opportunity to go on Webster Challenge college bus tours.
Jazlyn Stanciel, a senior at Webster Groves, said she is “going straight to college” after graduation. Stanciel has been accepted to the University of Central Missouri and Northwest Missouri State University; she has yet to decide which school to attend.
“It’s nice to have encouragement,” Stanciel said. “If you join the Webster Challenge, you’ve taken the steps to succeed in school.”
The Webster Challenge works to make college more affordable by increasing access to scholarships. Last year, Webster Challenge students from the Class of 2012 earned $1.5 million in scholarships.
“Before the challenge, I did struggle and had no help – no one to push me,” said Joshua Willis, a junior at Webster Groves. “I knew that I could use the help and thought it would get me on the right track.”
Willis plans to attend St. Louis Community College where he will study culinary arts with assistance from the A+ Scholarship program granted by the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
“It's great to work with a group of kids who are dedicated to their education and being successful in their post-secondary careers,” said Dwight Kirksey, student support aide at the school and last year’s winner of the Peabody Energy Leaders in Education award for mentoring more than 175 students.
Kevin Redmond was a member of the Webster Challenge inaugural class, established his freshman year in 2008. “We were the pioneers,” he said.
He graduated in May and is now enrolled at the University of Missouri, where he studies engineering. In September, he accepted the 2012 Dr. Donald M. Suggs scholarship at the St. Louis American Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship & Awards Gala.
“Kevin has been through the Webster Challenge,” Yeggins-Campbell said. “He understands the struggles and the mission.”
Lauren Newsome, a junior at Webster Groves, learned of the Webster Challenge the summer before her incoming freshman year.
“Every 9th grade African-American family receives a letter of invitation,” Clark said.
Newsome is student council treasurer and tutors at Hixson Middle School in the district.
Roslyn Croft was one of the first parents to support the Webster Challenge and her daughter Myia Croft, who now attends Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
Croft said, “Myia’s educational experience at Webster Groves High School has definitely given her the foundation she will need to be successful in her studies.”