While most high school students spend their Saturdays sleeping, socializing, or participating in sports, Sanford School sophomore Nia Naylor is in a University of Delaware classroom, taking college-level courses as part of the TeenSHARP program.
Naylor’s goal, like the 70 other high school students in Delaware who are also enrolled in the program, is to land an acceptance and academic scholarship to some of the nation’s top colleges. So she spends every Saturday of the year — from 10am to 4:30pm — with her academic and leadership advisors at TeenSHARP, a program focused on creating leadership experiences and increasing college access for underrepresented students, that first came to Delaware in 2016.
“Over the past two years that we’ve had the honor of working with Nia, we have seen her grow not only as a scholar but as a passionate intellectual and a leader,” said TeenSHARP founder Tatiana Poladko Alleyne. In her time with the program, Nia has designed and executed impactful community projects and pursued strategic enrichment opportunities.
Like other TeenSHARP students, Naylor has also developed her public speaking skills. That training along with her work in this year’s class, “Race and Ethnicity,” led to the invitation from TEDxWilmington. Her talk focused on the value of education from the perspective of teenagers. She spent time researching the habits and decision-making processes of young students, diving into research and interviewing local teachers. Naylor’s research showed that by age 10, many children have already determined the value and importance they intend to place on their education.
Despite this successful experience in the program, when Nia was first presented with the opportunity to participate in TeenSHARP, she wasn’t convinced the opportunity was worth the investment. “When I first got there, I thought it was good, but not for me. It’s a lot of work, and with going to Sanford, I thought it would be too hard for me. But I stuck with it, and as I progressed I realized that it formed me into the person I am today; it really helped me.”
Nia credits her first-year academic preparedness instruction at TeenSHARP for many of the successes she has enjoyed at Sanford and outside of school.
Not every student in the TeenSHARP program is fortunate enough to attend a private, college preparatory school like Sanford. That’s where TeenSHARP steps in to fill in the gap. Their approach is designed to eliminate the barriers that students from underrepresented communities face in their college preparation process. “Many of the scholars we work with continue to lack access to rich intellectual experiences and academic rigor,” said Poladko Alleyne.
Since being introduced in Delaware, TeenSHARP scholars have been admitted to schools including Carleton College, Emory University, Swarthmore College, Wesleyan University, and Franklin and Marshall College.
TeenSHARP now works with 29 high schools across New Castle County, and five of this year’s senior scholars have already received early decision acceptances.
TeenSHARP’s “College Access Ambassador Training” program is designed for students with academic promise – teens who have a leadership track record or demonstrate leadership potential. Applicants need a 3.5 GPA or above (3.3 if taking college level course work). To develop a strong foundation for academic success, students are encouraged to enroll in 9th grade, and it’s 4-year commitment. (Current juniors and seniors are taking an abbreviated program.)
Scholars will complete two college-level sociology and philosophy courses every year they are in TeenSHARP. Additionally, TeenSHARP works with the UD Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, which offers their scholars an opportunity to complete their dual-enrollment courses each fall.
Naylor loves the policy discussions and in-depth study of many relevant social and history-related topics. But she says the rigor is not for everyone. “You have to be determined in order to succeed in TeenSHARP. They expect you to get straight A’s and expect you to do very well in the college courses. You have to be able to manage your time and be very focused.”
The leadership training at TeenSHARP includes several opportunities for public speaking, and scholars occasionally lead workshops on issues for all peers in the program. “We want people to be social entrepreneurs,” said Poladko Alleyne. “We want them to become leaders and have a high level of content on a variety of issues and know both sides of the issues.”
A critical element of TeenSHARP’s success is parent engagement. Participating requires a partnership between a child and parent with TeenSHARP as a guide. TeenSHARP wants new habits to take root, and they say parents need to be engaged for this to happen.
Nia Naylor’s parents are as committed as she is to her education and are quite proud of all that she has accomplished in her short time with TeenSHARP. An unintended, but exciting, result of the TEDxWilmington Talk were invitations for other speaking engagements that Nia received. She addressed Wilmington families at the Martin Luther King, Jr. march, and she will speak at the Charter School of New Castle County, Howard High School and the University of Delaware later this year.
Nia has her eye on Princeton or Spellman, and after that Harvard Law. “I hope to become a lawyer someday.”