Ayania Wellington looks back on her grade school days in Brooklyn with a mixture of amusement and horror. “I was always causing trouble for my teachers,” she recalls. “I guess I was looking for attention.”
School wasn’t about learning, but about hanging out with her friends. At home, her relationship with her mother and her two sisters was often strained.
But as Ayania made her way through childhood and into adolescence, she evolved into a focused young woman, hungry to learn and determined to make something of herself. “I saw other kids getting pregnant, going to jail,” she says. “I knew there had to be something more.”
One of seven recipients
There was something more, and she found it: Today Ayania is completing her first year as a Liberal Arts major at BMCC with a 3.79 GPA. More exciting still, she was recently named one of seven CUNY community college students to receive a Kaplan Scholarship by the Kaplan Educational Foundation’s Leadership Program. (BMCC student Shara Concepcion is also a Kaplan Scholar.)
The Kaplan program helps high-potential, lower-income and under-represented community college students reach their educational and career goals. As a Kaplan Scholar, Ayania will receive $3,000 next year and then $20,000 a year after she transfers to a senior college. She’ll also receive extensive tutoring and mentoring support along the way. Her goal: A career in broadcast journalism.
“I still haven’t entirely grasped the meaning of this,” she says. “What it says to me is that there are people who believe in me and my dreams and want to help me succeed. Now it’s up to me to believe in myself as much as they do.”
Actually, the Kaplan Foundation isn’t the first to put its faith in Ayania. “When I was growing up, my mother couldn’t spend a lot of time with my sisters and me because she was working long hours,” she recalls. “So I decided to look for a program where someone could give us what she couldn’t.”
Enter Jennifer Coppel, a “big sister” from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
“I liked her well enough, but we weren’t close and I didn’t let her get to know me,” says Ayania, who was 12 or 13 when Jennifer came into her life. “She was Caucasian and came from a different background. We had different views. I was always worried that she would judge me, so I told her nothing.”
But Jennifer wasn’t one to give up. She pushed her young charge to stay in school and think about going on to college. One day, Jennifer, who was a supervisor at ClearVision Optical in Hauppage, NY, suggested that Ayania apply for an internship program at her company. “She said it would pay $10 an hour, but there was a condition—that I stay in school and get good grades.”
The conversation took place on a Saturday. The following Monday, Ayania began her new job at ClearVision—and moved out of her mother’s house and in with Jennifer and her husband Chris.
Bringing home good news
“Jennifer and Chris gave me structure, discipline and understanding—all the things I didn’t have growing up,” Ayania says. After graduating from high school, she entered BMCC, continuing to commute from Brooklyn to Hauppauge three days a week. “For the first time in my life, I’d come home with good grades and have someone to tell about it,” she says. “Jennifer and Chris supported my dreams and encouraged me to reach for them.”
In her first year at BMCC, Ayana took a course in mass media taught by Professor Hollis Glaser, of the Department of Speech, Communications and Theater. “From the first day, I wanted to model myself after her—the way she talked, wrote and presented herself,” says Ayania.
Glaser helped Ayania improve her writing skills, wrote references for her, and encouraged her broadcast journalism aspirations. “I found Ayania to be smart and determined with a strong sense of herself,” says Glaser. “She never missed a class or failed to turn in a writing assignment.”
As Ayania prepares for a summer of mentoring coursework—at both Vassar College and BMCC—she continues to live with Jennifer and Chris, who recently adopted a baby girl. “Her name is Elena, and she’s almost three,” says Ayania. “It’s exciting—I’m watching her grow up, just as Jennifer and Chris have watched me grow up.”