Last June, Close the Gap Foundation hosted its first-ever Spark Program. We were pleased to have selected high school students from under-resourced communities to participate in our summer-long project-based learning program. Throughout its duration, our scholars identified a social issue to devised and implement a social impact project.

Along the way, the scholars were connected with mentors, community members, and resources needed to contribute positively to their community. Upon the culmination of their project, each scholar reflected upon their experiences by presenting their social impact project to our board members and partners. Our top three finalists received scholarships of up to $1,000.

While we are pleased to invest in our students financially, we are proud to have given our students ownership of their own projects. The project-based learning format equips our students with a multitude of problem-solving, leadership, and communication skills that extends beyond the summer program. We invested in our scholars, William, Jocyelnne, and Alex, so they can then empower their own under-resourced communities.

Student presenting a statistics that shows 32% of U.S. families are low-income
Scholar William shares his impact project in school supplies drive (Courtesy of Close the Gap's Archive)

School Supplies Drive

Upon reading that out of 1000 teachers surveyed, 96% used their personal funds to purchase school supplies for their students, William strategized Operation Providing Access to Student Success (PASS). William collaborated with his school's Interact Club to put together a supply drive for schools in the San Jose Area, serving families with low-incomes.

As a result, the drive collected 7,000 pieces of school supplies summing up to a monetary value of $1,300. In appreciation, some of the 250 teachers and students, sent William messages of gratitude. One stated, "people like you [William] change the world…." William's project is a glowing example of the many ways Spark scholars make meaningful waves.

Spark Scholar Jocyelnne shares her impact project in mentorship (Courtesy of Close the Gap's Archive)
Student presents her social mentorship project to an audience
Scholar Jocyelnne shares her impact project in mentorship (Courtesy of Close the Gap's Archive)

Social Mentorship

Jocyelnne's passion for mentoring low-income communities of color and food security sparked her social impact project. Recognizing the interconnected nature of both topics, she set forth to address points of food scarcity that impacted her community. Jocyelnne took action by creating a petition and communicating with administrators regarding stringent cafeteria policies that disproportionately affected low-income students of color. Since then these policies have been dismantled.

Additionally, Jocyelnne worked to connect other students with advice and tools, including food security resources, in efforts to establish a support system. Jocyelnne shared that, "now thousands have the opportunity to take a pastry with them to eat and refill their water bottles" and students “are able to get the correct help.” We at Close the Gap Foundation are proud to have given, students like Jocyelnne, the tools needed to address and improve issues salient to her community.

Student presenting his project at Google's Community Space
Scholar Alex shares his impact project in SAT tutoring (Courtesy of Close the Gap's Archive)

SAT Tutoring

Being overwhelmed by the high costs of SAT preparation courses, Alexander spent a summer self-studying to prepare for his SAT. Throughout this process, he developed his studying do's and don't's, which eventually brought his score to the 99th percentile.

With a desire to alleviate stress surrounding the SAT and increase college accessibility, Alexander utilized his valuable skillset to tutor a low-income student for his social impact project. With Alexander's help, the student's SAT score went from the 82nd percentile to the 92nd percentile. The student's percentile growth not only made him eligible for more scholarship funding but made him a competitive applicant for 206 more schools. Alexander's impact surpasses more than just the collegial benefits of admittance and aid, but the student now possesses a toolkit and growth mindset that will take him far.

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