High school offers kids 2 free years of college for good grades, staying off drugs

This first year, 23 students at the school qualified

(Credit: WHTM)

STEELTON, Pa. (WHTM) – As college tuitions climb higher and higher, the Steelton-Highspire School District is taking the sting out of the price tag, offering students two years at HACC for free.

The district is partnering with the community college system to reward kids who keep their grades up and demonstrate good behavior.

Keep an eye out — the program could be coming to your kid’s school next. Steel-High is the first Midstate district to take part; it gives students a little extra incentive to ace that next test.

“My parents were hooked,” 7th grader Daytona Walsh said.

Daytona, sitting on top of a desk next to classmates Alex Torres and Tanner Sviben, their feet swinging freely above the floor, are all part of the new program called Harrisburg Promise.

“Classes get harder and harder and harder as you go up,” Daytona said, “but mostly what I do, I just study and study and pay attention.”

She’ll need to if she wants to stay in the program.

Harrisburg Promise offers two free years of college at any HACC campus if students keep up a 2.5 GPA through middle and high school and follow a couple other rules.

“They have to stay off of drugs and alcohol,” Steelton-Highspire Junior-Senior High School principal Sheri Woodall said, “and they have to not become a teenage parent.”

Those are the rules set up by HACC. The college started the initiative last semester in partnership with the Harrisburg Housing Authority.

Joe Porter, part of the first-ever graduating class at HACC and now a member of the Steel-High supporting Roller Education Foundation, called the program’s administrators and asked if the district could be part of it, too.

They started participating in earnest in January.

This first year, 23 students at the school qualified and filled out applications. Everyone who meets the expectations and submits the forms is accepted.

“When we had the parent meeting,” Woodall said, “I wish you guys were there for that because every single parent was almost in tears that their students were selected.”

Woodall said 87 percent of Steel-High kids are impoverished; this is a real opportunity.

“Because to them,” she said, “college is unattainable or it’s not affordable for them.”

“College is really hard to…” Alex started. “A lot of money. It’s really a lot of money.”

Kids also attend monthly meetings at HACC as part of the requirements, something these students aren’t taking for granted.

“When you get up there for your college years, it makes you feel comfortable,” Tanner said, “like you know the place already.”

It’s a lot of years to keep up those good habits. Daytona, Alex, and Tanner are all ready for the challenge.

“It’s a great deal for me,” Daytona said, “because I don’t have to pay anything.”

Victor Rodgers, the associate provost for workforce development and the program’s administrator, said they want to expand the idea to other Midstate districts in the future, but in order to do that, they’ll need to keep fundraising along the way.