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Seniors at this Durham high school have $20M in college scholarships. How they did it.

Lamarius Green, left, and Alazar Mebrahtu complete an experiment during an International Baccalaureate level chemistry class at Hillside High School.
Lamarius Green, left, and Alazar Mebrahtu complete an experiment during an International Baccalaureate level chemistry class at Hillside High School.

A year ago, Hillside High School graduates set a school record by nabbing $18.1 million in academic and athletic scholarships.

The Class of 2018 has beaten that record with offers of more than $20 million.

"I think the students went up and beyond taking advantage of all the opportunities provided them," Principal William Logan said. "They were very aggressive in applying for scholarships."

The scholarship dollars earned by Hillside's 285 seniors equals more than half the offers reported by Durham Public Schools' other nine high schools combined. The total reported for those schools is roughly $31.4 million.

By comparison, Jordan High School's 408 seniors reported the next highest total with $10.4 million in scholarship offers.

While Hillside has had a notable run of athletic success in recent years — the girl's track team won its eighth state title this year — only $5 million of its $20 million in scholarships were for students' success in sports.

"We didn't have as many athletic scholarship offers this year as we've had in the past, but they [athletic scholarships] have never exceeded the academic scholarships," Logan said.

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Hillside High School Principal William Logan watches over students during lunchbreak in the school’s lobby. Casey Toth

It should be noted that scholarship offers are self-reported, meaning that the high schools depend on students to tell them about the scholarship offers. So, schools could have more scholarships offer than they report. Also, the reports include competing offers from colleges and universities.

"Hillside has developed a strong culture over the years of generating enthusiasm about scholarship offers and letting us know about them," said DPS spokesman Chip Sudderth.

College advisers

In addition to Hillside students' aggressive pursuit of money for college, the predominantly African-American school where nearly 60 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunches also has a college adviser who works for Carolina College Advising Corps (CCAC).

The CCAC is a non-profit organization that helps low-income, first-generation, and under-represented students from North Carolina attend college by placing recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduates in high schools throughout the state to assist students with admission, financial aid and scholarship applications.

"We do know that scholarship dollars increase in schools when they partner with us," said Yolanda Keith, the CCAC program director.

MaKayla Leak, the adviser at Hillside, is one of two assigned to DPS high schools. The other is assigned to Southern School of Energy and Sustainability.

Keith said there are 57 advisers working in school districts across the state.

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MaKayla Leak, a member of the Carolina College Advising Corps assigned to Hillside High School, is one of two assigned to Durham Public Schools. The other adviser is assigned to Southern School of Energy and Sustainability. Carolina College Advising Corps

Logan credits Leak, along with Hillside's traditional school counselors, for students' success at landing scholarships, but Leak says it's the school's seniors who did the heavy lifting.

"I bring them opportunities," Leak explained. "They're the amazing people who received the scholarships for their hard work."

Leak's work at Hillside includes helping students secure financial aid by assisting them, for example, with filling out Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms. She also provides information about scholarships, assists with arranging college visits and bringing college recruiters to campus.

Leak said she and Hillside's traditional counselors make sure students are prepared to make a good impression when they talk with college recruiters, some of who are prepared to offer students admission and scholarships on the spot.

"I think every year, students want to do better and be better," Leak said.

How the others fared

Perhaps nearly as impressive as the $20 million Hillside seniors amassed is the nearly $6 million worth of scholarship offers reported by the 80 seniors who recently graduated from J.D. Clement Early College High School.

In fact, the school system's four small specialty high schools, including Clement Early College, reported nearly $12 million in scholarships.

Clement Early College was followed by City of Medicine whose 69 graduates received $2.5 million in scholarship offers. The number was $1.9 million for the 89 graduates of Middle College High School at Durham Technical Community College and $400,000 for the 60 graduates at New Tech High School, which shares facilities with Hillside.

Among, traditional high schools, the 223 seniors at Durham School of the Arts reported nearly $6 million in scholarships and at Southern School of Energy and Sustainability the 309 graduates reported $1.3 million in scholarships. Meanwhile, Northern High School's seniors reported $314,000 in scholarships.

The amount of scholarship offers received by the 46 seniors graduation from the School of Creative Studies was not available.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645