Elon Academy debuts “Ambassadors” program

Current high school sophomores in Elon's college access program are traveling to local schools to share the importance of higher education.


Alamance County high school students enrolled in the university’s Elon Academy college access program are this month taking their interest in higher education to the lower grades.

The Elon Academy Ambassadors Program brings sophomores in the Elon Academy to elementary and middle school classrooms around the county where they read to younger children and share lessons about the benefits of planning ahead for college.

Led by John Pickett, the Elon Academy’s assistant director of scholar support, the ambassadors made their debut appearance on Wednesday at North Graham Elementary School about 10 miles from the university campus. Four Elon Academy scholars read children’s books about UNC-Chapel Hill and Appalachian State University written by Anne Webb, an author who teaches at Chapel Hill.

Sophomores Malika Pettiford and Corey Goldman of Southern Alamance High School, and Angeles Baeza and Emeli Marroquin of Graham High School, took part in the readings, first to a class of kindergarteners, then to a room of second grade students. All four said they were impressed at the attention they were paid by the children.

“They know a lot about college already,” said Goldman, with Baeza adding, “Their parents or older siblings could have told them about it.”

North Graham was a Homecoming for both Baeza and Pickett. Baeza attended school there, and Pickett worked as a first and fifth grade teacher in the building earlier in his career. The fact that Elon Academy scholars would return to their elementary schools is part of what drove Pickett to develop the Ambassadors program.

“It gives our scholars a chance to come back to their home schools to show that they attended class here, and now they’re planning to go to college,” Pickett said. “They’ve put in the work to make this a good experience for the kids.”

Leslie Woody, the kindergarten teacher whose class heard from the Elon Academy scholars on Wednesday, offered her own perspective on the program. As a Title I school, where a majority of children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, higher education isn’t always a priority for families.

Woody said that seeing the Elon Academy scholars interact with children about college is part of a broader effort in the school. “We try at the very beginning to let our children know that they are important, that they are worth it, that they can make choices,” Woody said. “We try to empower them.”

In addition to the classroom readings, the Elon Academy scholars will host a mini college fair at North Graham Elementary on March 1. Each scholar has researched a college that he or she will be promoting at booths in the school. The first installment of the initiative concludes March 2 when Webb visits North Graham for two assembly programs.

Launched by Elon University in 2007, the Elon Academy is an intensive three-year academic enrichment and leadership development program for local high school students with high financial need or no family history of attending college. It combines a month-long residential program over three successive summers with follow-up experiences during the academic year.

Elon Academy staff worked closely with advocates from all six public high schools, River Mill Public Charter School, as well as Alamance-Burlington School System staff to identify, select, and support bright, highly motivated, local students who dream of a college education.