From Family Loss, a Success Story

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Eighteen-year-old Latisha Smith decided long ago that she wanted to go to college, but wasn’t sure how she could afford it. She never had much in the way of financial support, and the only family she ever knew began to disappear at an early age. (See related story, College Opportunity Knocks, But Often Gets No Answer.)

She lost her mother, who suffered from schizophrenia, when she was 7. Although her grandparents were schoolteachers, their poor health prevented them from being caretakers. Her grandmother died the same year as her mother. Her grandfather suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She never knew her father.

Smith was raised by a woman who is her great aunt by marriage, and who eked out a living for the two on her meager salary as an elementary school cafeteria manager.

“They’re the lowest-paid workers in the district,” Smith said. 

Smith had heard about Kauffman Scholars on television when she was in sixth grade, but never got the opportunity to apply because no one from Kauffman Scholars visited her school. At the time, she didn’t know how to look up the agency. When she heard during her freshman year in high school that program slots would be open the next year, she jumped at the opportunity.

“When they gave out the information, I went straight home,” Smith recalled. “I was like, ‘We need to fill this out. I want to do this.’ ”

When Smith was accepted into the program for her sophomore year, she was delighted. “I worked hard for that. I was like, ‘I had to get this.’ ”

She credits Kauffman Scholars with helping her improve her ACT scores. The first time she took the college entrance exam, she said, she scored a 15. Then she scored an 18, and finally a 19. That’s a couple of points below the national average but a marked improvement nonetheless.

Smith also spoke appreciatively about how Kauffman Scholars furnished her with a life coach. “If you don’t have an adult to talk to at that point in time, or if you have problems with a teacher at the school, you can go to your life coach and talk about it,” Smith said.

Although she received college prep services from Kauffman, she didn’t place into college level math. Smith said her low math skills are a result of an inferior education in high school. “I had teachers that were tremendous, but there was one that didn’t care and I kind of didn’t get what I needed,” she said.

Smith is a freshman and plans to study elementary education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

 “If you work hard enough in school, stay out of trouble, you can get to your goal of being a scholar,” Smith said. “Yes, the work is sometimes tedious. It can get on your nerves. But it’s all worth it in the end.”