High school offers 2 free years of college for staying drug-free, good grades

STEELTON, Penn. (WHTM) – As college tuition climbs higher and higher, a Pennsylvania school district is taking the sting out of the price tag.

The Steelton-Highspire school district is partnering with the community college system to reward kids who keep their grades up and demonstrate good behavior.

The program gives students a little extra incentive to ace that next test.

“My parents were hooked,” seventh grader Daytona Walsh said.

Daytona and his classmates Alex Torres and Tanner Sviben are part of the new program, called Harrisburg Promise.

“Classes get harder and harder and harder as you go up,” Daytona said. “But mostly what I do, I just study and study and pay attention.”

She will have to if she wants to stay in the program.

Harrisburg Promise offers two free years of college at any Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) campus if students keep up a 2.5 GPA through middle and high school — and follow a couple other rules.

“They have to stay off of drugs and alcohol,” Steelton-Highspire Jr./Sr. High School Principal Sheri Woodall said. “And they have to not become a teenage parent.”

Those are the rules set up by HACC. The college started the initiative last semester in partnership with the Harrisburg Housing Authority.

Joe Porter, part of the first-ever graduating class at HACC and now a member of the Steel-High supporting Roller Education Foundation, called the program’s administrators and asked if the district could be part of it, too. They started participating in earnest in January.

This first year, 23 students at the school qualified and filled out applications. Everyone who meets the expectations and submits the forms is accepted.

“When we had the parent meeting — I wish you guys were there for that — because every single parent was almost in tears that their students were selected,” Woodall said.

Woodall said 87 percent of Steel-High kids are impoverished.

“Because to them, college is unattainable, or it’s not affordable for them,” Woodall said.

“College is really hard to…” Alex started. “A lot of money. It’s really a lot of money.”

Kids also attend monthly meetings at HACC as part of the requirements, something these students aren’t taking for granted.

“When you get up there for your college years, it makes you feel comfortable,” Tanner said. “Like you know the place already.”

It’s a lot of years to keep up those good habits. Daytona, Alex, and Tanner are ready for the challenge.

“It’s a great deal for me,” Daytona said. “Because I don’t have to pay anything.”

Victor Rodgers, the associate provost for workforce development and the program’s administrator, said they want to expand the idea to other Pennsylvania districts in the future, but in order to do that, they’ll need to keep fundraising along the way.