Emily K Center helps students get to college despite barriers

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When the Emily K Center in Durham first opened in 2006, it served 38 students in one program.  Today it serves more than 2,000 students yearly.  Alejandro Joaquin is a junior at the California College School of the Arts, but he’s from Durham and has been part of the programs at the Emily K Center since high school. “I’m the first-generation college student, I haven’t had parents or family members that have gone to college. It really helps to facilitate and learn the college system and how to succeed.”

Chief program officer Valerie Anderson has seen growth in Alejandro. “I’ve seen him now just make the most of every opportunity that’s put before him in college, so it’s been really gratifying to see his progress.”

The Emily K Center has four programs that start in the first grade and go all the way through high school and into college. 

In grade school they help students improve math and literacy skills, that program is called Pioneer Scholars.  In high school two programs help students get ready for college how to apply and get accepted. The last program, Scholars on Campus, is for those in college as they help student navigate and complete college.    

One of the high school programs, Game Plan, is open to any high schooler in the Durham Public School system. “We embed post-secondary advisors in the high schools to make sure that every student has the opportunity to get really high quality advising about what they want to do next in life after high school,” says Anderson.

The Emily K Center was founded by Coach K in honor of his mom. Even though when you think of Coach K, you think basketball, these programs are not about basketball; but all about knowing the importance of just going to college.

 Anderson says, “he himself was the first in his family to attend college and he really credits his mother. He recognizes what a game changer college was in his life, and so he’s very passionate about making sure all students in Durham have that same level of support.”

This includes Alejandro, “they really helped me to know the right steps and what to do to create a successful application for college.”

But the big question, did Alejandro ever get to meet Coach K?

“When I graduated, I got to shake his hand and everything, and it was really exciting.” (laughs) As the Emily K Center celebrates their 15th Anniversary this month; they are proud that in the high school program called, Scholars to College, nearly 100 percent of the graduates have been accepted to college.

To learn more about the Emily K Center, visit their website: https://www.emilyk.org/

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