Samantha Lunsford knows that education is the nation's greatest equalizer. It has the power to open the doors of opportunity and to enrich the individual and their community. As a Posse scholar and a City Year Miami AmeriCorps member, Samantha works every day with that mindset.
"I grew up in a low-income neighborhood. It was called the S.W.A.T.S, which had a lot of different meanings, but it was home for me. My entire school experience, I wanted to do better and be better because of those things and because of what other people thought about the community I grew up in," Samantha said. "My parents worked extremely hard to make sure that both my brother and I had all the tools we needed to succeed. They went above and beyond for us and my cousins. So, if me going to school and doing my best was what would make them happy, I was more than happy to do it.”
As a high school senior, Samantha Lunsford was counting on scholarships to go to college. Her mother helped her research scholarships and would compile a list of applications for Samantha to complete. When her mom learned about a four-year, full-tuition scholarship from The Posse Foundation, a family friend was quick to support and nominate Samantha for the opportunity.
Samantha put her all into the application and interview. With a highly competitive program, she was honored to be one of 10 students selected to become Posse Scholars and attend The College of Wooster in Ohio.
Moving from the Atlanta, Georgia to Ohio and transitioning to college living introduced Samantha to a number of new experiences. "The weather, can we just start there?" she said. "Like snow. What is snow?" She recalled her first experiences of Ohio's cold winters with laughter, but getting used to weather and learning how to dress warmly in winter were just the tip of the iceberg.
Navigating a new city and figuring out what courses to register for—these were just a few of the challenges that awaited Samantha and other college freshman. “I was used to having my teachers and my [guidance] counselors telling me, 'Here you are. These are the classes you need to take.' But now I had to design my whole schedule.”
But Samantha was prepared. As a Posse Scholar, she received nearly eight months of pre-collegiate training and support for just this moment. "They really got us ready for being on a college campus. [We learned] what to expect, how to talk to your professors, how to write essays, how to build relationships with other people on campus and how to network."
Best of all, Samantha knew she wasn't alone in this process. The Posse Foundation places their scholars in supportive and multicultural teams of 10. "I loved the fact that I would have nine other people [at the College of Wooster] with me from Atlanta, coming from similar backgrounds – other people who could understand where I was coming from." Not only did they have a network they could lean on, they built close friendships and worked to keep one another safe and included on campus.
At the end of their college experience, Samantha and all Posse scholars can nominate other students who should be awarded the same Posse Foundation scholarships. "It didn't feel like enough for me. I wanted to do more."
"When I got the opportunity to be a Posse Scholar, to learn as much as I did, I wanted to give back in some way—outside of just nominating someone for the scholarship. I wanted to take what I had learned and teach it to other kids, other students, other scholars like me."
When she heard about City Year, Samantha knew it would be a great opportunity to help other students succeed and to help them enrich their own communities as well. She decided to take a gap year before pursuing a career in public health to serve with City Year Miami.
Samantha now serves in level one and level two high school English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes. Many of her students are new immigrants. Their hard work, persistence and determination to learn inspires Samantha and her teammates to serve.
"Just recently we were working on how to write essays—introductions, bodies and conclusions. When we first started, none of my students could write a sentence. Just putting words in the correct [grammatical] format was hard for them." Now, several months later, they're writing whole paragraphs. To help her students see what tremendous progress they've made, she pulled out some of their earlier work to compare. "I finally got to see—and they got to see—how much they had improved. They could write whole paragraphs, with complete sentences and correct punctuation."
Just as Posse believed in her potential, Samantha and City Year believe in the academic and leadership potential of their scholars. Sentence by sentence, she'll continue to make a difference in Miami.