DANVILLE — Keyira Jones knows some of those students who seem to get good grades without really trying. She is not one of them.
"I have to work at it," said the Danville High School senior, who has earned mostly A's and will graduate with high honors this spring.
Jones' hard work and determination to excel in her studies are paying off. The 17-year-old from Danville already has been accepted to several universities, including her top two picks — the University of Illinois' Chicago and Urbana campuses. And this month, she was named a Dell Scholar.
Jones is one of 300 high school seniors from across the country, and one of two from downstate Illinois, to win the national award from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation this year, and the first Danville High student to do so in the scholarship's eight-year history. Recipients re-ceive a $20,000 scholarship, a Dell laptop, printer and networking opportunities, mentoring and other support throughout their college career.
"There is no one in this building that's more deserving," said Thea Dodd, who teaches the school's AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program and requires seniors to apply for the scholarship. Jones has been involved in the program since seventh grade except for her junior year.
"Keyira has gone through her share of trials and tribulations," Dodd continued. "But she's set high standards for herself and worked very hard. She's organized, she manages things well and she doesn't let anything get her down. She really represents what AVID stands for."
Launched in Danville public schools at the sixth- and seventh-grade level in 2000 and expanded to the high school in 2002, the AVID program targets average-performing students, who initially may not have been college-bound, and puts them on a college track.
"It gives those middle-of-the road students, who have the potential, a little more assistance so that they can achieve just as much as the honors students can," Dodd said, adding students may come from low-income families or be the first generation to go to college. "And once students are in the program, they usually do excel and get all A's or A's and B's."
Students learn special note-taking, study and organization skills that prepare them for college-prep and college classes, meet with tutors twice a week and learn to collaborate and problem-solve in small groups. They also take field trips to colleges and universities, and invite local professionals to come in and talk about their careers and what they needed to do educationally to prepare for them.
During their senior year, students write essays they can use to apply for college and scholarships, fill out college applications and financial aid forms and practice their interviewing and presentation skills.
The Dell Scholars initiative was designed to further assist students in AVID and other college preparatory programs, who have overcome significant obstacles to pursue their educations. The program has provided students a year with $31 million in scholarships since it started.
This year, 6,815 students from across the country, including 334 from Illinois, applied for the scholarship, according to spokesman Steven Knuff. As in previous years, 300 were selected.
"The Dell Scholars Program isn't just a check; it's a college graduation program," Knuff wrote in an email. "Too many programs just cut a check and forget about the kids. We work with them to plan their way through school, educate them on educational finances (such as) loans versus grants versus scholarships, and how each of them impact the student's future."
In addition to excelling academically, Jones is or has been a member of the girls' track team, local history club, national honor society, Y-Teens, Young Women Aware, newspaper and yearbook, and volunteers for the March of Dimes, Peer Court, Festival of Trees, Laura Lee Fellowship House and UNICEF. She also is a student helper for the high school's adaptive physical education class and works as a housekeeper and laundress at Danville Care Nursing Home.
When Jones saw her name among the list of winners on the foundation's website when it was announced at midnight April 10, she screamed so loud she woke up her mom, Latanya Townsend. Then she texted Dodd, who was up grading papers.
"I cried," Jones said, adding the assistance will go a long way in helping her achieve her dream of majoring in psychology and minoring in business and running her own practice. "I just felt like I've worked so hard to get here. This gives me hope. Now I feel I can do anything, that anything is possible."