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Delaware Goes to College Academy offers free college prep help to low-income students

Megan Pauly
Delaware Public Media
14-year-old Baraka Osborne talks to TeenSHARP Executive Director and Co-founder Tatiana Poladko about his progress in school.

A new partnership between the state Department of Education, TeenSHARP and Capital One aims to help 600 low-income First State students apply to – and succeed in – college.

14-year-old Baraka Osborne has big – and specific – dreams to: "become a really famous optometrist that leaves a mark on optometry.”


But in order to get there, some mentoring was in order. He recently sat down with TeenSHARP Executive Director Tatiana Poladko to discuss his progress in math and science. She advised Osborne to watch his grades in math and science, and always ask for a textbook even if one isn't given.


Poladko says this is the type of mentoring so many First State students – especially low-income and minority students – miss out on.


“We know that school counselors are notoriously overwhelmed," Poladko said. "The ratio of 1 to 440 students does not lend itself to high quality advising.”


So they’ve started - in partnership with Delaware’s Department of Education – the Delaware Goes to College Academy. Low-income incoming juniors and seniors with a 3.0 GPA or higher have all received letters from the Department of Education about the program, and are invited to apply.


Those accepted will receive a variety of free college prep services, including a three-day summer boot camp and continuous online mentoring throughout the school year.


TeenSHARP already provides intensive college prep services to low-income students every Saturday. But Poladko says she wanted to find another way to help students who aren’t available on Saturdays.


“We were thinking – is there a way for us to still be able to help address the issue of under matching in the college application process and help talented students find a college where they’d be able to do so on financially favorable terms," she said.


One bootcamp session will be held in each of Delaware’s three counties next month. Delaware's Department of Education has provided $40,000 in seed funding to help provide transportation for those students and their families that need it; the funding will also help supplement the cost of maintaining the online mentoring platform. Poladko says that with the help of funders, they were able to match the $40,000 contribution.
Director of Higher Education for the Department of Education Shana Payne says this initiative also builds on the Delaware College Scholars Program they've run in partnership with St. Andrews in Middletown. But the goal with this new initiative is to reach even more students.

Student participants will also have access to peer mentors like recent TeenSHARP graduate Alejandra Villamares. Villamares is headed to Wesleyan University next year.

"I can't say it was a walk in the park because I ended up applying to 15 colleges, but they [TeenSHARP] definitely helped facilitate that process," Villamares said.

The Delaware Goes to College Academy program has around 100 applicants so far – and is looking for another 500 by July 20th. Interested students can apply at


"We’re already reaching out to seniors who’ve applied to the program to alert them that something’s going to have to be done about area x, y and z and here’s what we want you to start doing in July even before you get to the bootcamp," Poladko said.


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