New program offers students at Camden's LEAP Academy chance at college scholarship

Good grades and showing up will bring financial aid to hundreds.

Steve Tawa
June 16, 2018 - 10:00 pm
LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden

Steve Tawa | KYW Newsradio

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CAMDEN, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) -- Good grades and showing up will add up to university scholarships for hundreds of students from LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden. 

Here's the challenge: maintain at least a 3.5 Grade Point Average, with a stellar attendance record, fewer than four unexcused absences each year, and get scholarships toward their tuition to any Rutgers University campus.

It's all in play for about 400 students, as young as kindergarten and as old as 12th grade, according to LEAP Founder Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago.

"And why is college important for these kids? It's the only way out of poverty," said Bonilla-Santiago. "Particularly if you're a black or Latino kid from these neighborhoods. Part of the job we have to do is prepare them, so that they have the skills to compete in the real world."

Talk about a jump-start.

"We have the whole senior class going to college, graduating with 30 credits," Bonilla-Santiago said. "They start college in their sophomore year."

That's all 102 graduating LEAP seniors.

"It's also great for families," Bonilla-Santiago said. "They don't have to pay the first year - we pay it - and then, of course, if they have the scholarship, we save that scholarship into the sophomore year."

Eleventh grader Arleny Valdez, who is 17, is ready to take the leap to Rutgers New Brunswick, as a bio-medical major.

"Even though they're paying for it, there's no guarantee that you'll pass," said Valdez. "You still have to do the work."

Valdez also points out a free year of college will mean less student loans down the road. LEAP, Camden's first charter school, is also the first charter school in New Jersey to make dual enrollment the whole curriculum for seniors.