This semester VOX ATL is highlighting teen activists making changes in Atlanta with our VOX Investigates: Youth Activism Revolution (#YAR) coverage. If you are a teen activist or know of any interested in having their voice heard, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Imagine not being able to access a quality education purely because of your socioeconomic status. Imagine losing access to critical resources because of a factor you cannot control. Unfortunately, many low-income students across the nation undergo this. Yet no one talks about it.
Hello. My name is Ila Prabhuram, and I am a student at Etowah High School and the founder of College Pathway.
A few years ago, I volunteered at a local trailer park in my community and tutored elementary students. One day, I got talking to one of the mothers who lived there. She told me that she didn’t attend college, and that her son was most likely not going to college either because they couldn’t afford it. I didn’t know what to say. I was dumbstruck at the fact that there were so many of these overlooked, financially struggling individuals hidden among our average community members. I went home that night, wondering what I could do to help with this situation. That’s when I founded College Pathway, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that bridges the gap between education and students from low-income families.
In short, low-income students do not receive the same resources, such as financial aid, proper curriculum, school supplies, and more, as students from higher-income backgrounds. They lack guidance and an abundance of resources. I surveyed a few upperclassmen students in my school, and I was shocked to find that a very small portion of them knew about FAFSA and how to apply for it. Many said that they weren’t planning on applying for FAFSA simply because “they didn’t know how to.”
I believe that every student, no matter their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background, has a right to an equal opportunity to access quality education. Many students aren’t able to afford college without financial aid and scholarships. Research says that students from low-income families tend to be less motivated in school, and less likely to graduate high school. This issue is prevalent nationwide, but many people are in the dark about the plight of these low-income students. Through College Pathway, I hope to change that.
When I first decided I wanted to start a nonprofit organization, my parents were immediately on board. However, it took a long time for me to convince my fellow peers and teachers to be on board as well. Eventually, I did, and with the help of my parents, Board of Directors (composed of teachers), and fellow peers, I was able to reach my goal of gaining a 501(c)(3) status for College Pathway in early 2019! We had to jump through many legal barriers, such as an extremely long wait time before gaining the status and finding enough adults to be on the Board of Directors, but in the end, we were able to accomplish that goal. A big obstacle that I overcame was convincing people to take me seriously since I am so young compared to other people in the nonprofit organization field. I remember specifically sending emails after emails, to various organizations, with inquires about partnering and collaborating with their organizations and I didn’t receive a single response back. People were uneasy about the fact that a young teenager was in charge of managing a nonprofit. But I believe my passion is what stood out to most people, and eventually convinced them that I was capable of doing this.
Another important part of the process for forming College Pathway was designing a logo and website. I used the GoDaddy domain to host the website and designed the appearance myself. I also used different creative platforms such as Canva to create College Pathway’s logo.
Through College Pathway, I want to advocate for equality in education and spread awareness about this issue that is plaguing the nation. We work to make resources more accessible to low-income students, including conducting FAFSA workshops, donating curriculum and educational activities to low-income schools, and spread awareness to low-income students and parents about financial aid resources they can utilize.
Our impact has reached over 1,000 students and parents through speaking engagements, reaching out directly to students, parents, and teachers, and working with schools to conduct FAFSA and educational workshops. I’ve been able to present College Pathway at the Georgia State Board of Education Meeting and meet the Georgia Department of Education State Superintendent Richard Woods, among other engagements. We’ve spoken to over 20 congressional, state, and city representatives to enact change, and we’ve collaborated with over 15 different organizations, including the Georgia Department of Education, Cherokee County School District, Points of Light, as well as several student-run organizations with similar goals. We’ve been able to reach thousands of people, and this is only the beginning. Because College Pathway is my dream and I won’t ever give up on it.
If you are a student wanting to get involved with College Pathway, you can apply to become a student ambassador, submit your #education story, or donate! You can learn more about ambassadors and student stories, as well as other financial aid opportunities, at www.collegepathwayus.org.
Written by Ila Prabhuram, freshman at Etowah High School