When Ann Chester was in seventh grade, her teachers told her, “You’re not going to college.”
She couldn’t believe it. She’d always been a good student, always believed her path led to the door of a university. But someone had misread her test scores, and she ended up in a class full of underachievers. Soon, she was underachieving, too.
The mistake was quickly remedied, but the impression lasted a lifetime: If you’re told you’re not going to succeed, you won’t; if you’re told you can succeed, then you just might.
The experience led Chester to create the Health Sciences Technology Academy, a program that prepares rural, minority and economically disadvantaged high school students for college and careers in the health sciences. Graduates of the program are eligible for tuition and fee waivers at a West Virginia college or university.
“We raise the bar and the expectations,” Chester says. “We tell them they’re going to college, they don’t have a choice. We tell them they will succeed, they don’t have a choice. We’re behind them.”
The result, in HSTA’s 15 years of existence, has been a smaller achievement gap. Approximately 97 percent of HSTA students go to college and many of the 1,151 graduates have become prominent members of the West Virginia community – doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and teachers.
And that, says Chester, is exactly what prompted her to start the program.
“There is no better feeling than to see a student who is realizing that they can be who they want to be,” she says.