When 17-year-old Prestina St. Louis found out she’d been awarded a $40,000 college scholarship, she was obviously extremely excited.

But there was someone else jumping up and down a bit higher in the background.

Prestina St. Louis. Photo: Supplied.

“I think my mom was probably more excited than me when she found out,” St. Louis smiled.

“I think for our family it was a stress reliever knowing that we would have a second source to help pay off loans for college, as well as me being able to be in the Rales program for its mentorships and other programs for the future – it just sets me up better.”

Flatlands resident St. Louis was recently announced as one of the 16 seniors at Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts (SA) that were selected as the first cohort of the SA Ruth and Norman Rales Scholars Program.

The program gives the seniors a $40,000 scholarship over four years and access to nationally recognized mentors, leadership programming and career development through a partnership with the Ron Brown Scholar Program. The scholarships support students from all socioeconomic backgrounds to achieve excellence and reach their full potential by increasing access to opportunities through education, SA said in a press release.

The first cohort of Success Academy Rales Scholarship awardees.

The mentorship side of the program is what excites St. Louis the most.

Since the pandemic hit, St. Louis has taken a leadership role in tutoring younger students at her school, even forming her own lesson plans where she weaves in current events and social justice issues.

“I thought it would be nice for me to be able to help younger students, to mend the barrier that was forming because we couldn’t go to school,” St. Louis told BK Reader.

She initially started tutoring math, but felt it would be more beneficial to her “tutties” if she opened up to whatever scholarly assistance they needed – and she’s been there for them through her studies and on weekends too.

“It made tutoring sessions a lot more comfortable and easier, and the bond that we created over being more free about what we could talk about was better,” she said.

The most rewarding part of helping her students was seeing them understand what she’d taught them and apply it to tests or homework.

“I felt like I did that, the feeling that I was able to help a tuttie get a higher grade or pass a final or midterm.”

St. Louis will be able receive similar mentoring, and also give back through the Rales Scholarship program, which prioritizes network building and support.

This fall, she is heading to Rochester Institute of Technology where she will be undertaking an accelerated engineering program, where she will graduate with a bachelor’s and master’s in five years – although she’s planning to do it in four.

St. Louis plans to take that mechanical engineering background into a career in law, something she is she is very passionate about.

“Having the background of mechanical engineering creates a diversity for me and makes me stand out more as a scholar,” she said. “Especially because mechanical engineering is something that I love to do like math, and STEM in general, is something that I love to do.”

And what’s she most excited about going to college? Well there’s the snow of course, but she says its the clubs and extracurriculars she’s most excited for.

“I wanted to join a volleyball club, maybe in my freshman year, so I’m excited to put myself into that opportunity.”

Sam Chafee, of Success Academy, said the Rales Foundation had committed to support up to 125 Success Academy Rales Scholars over the next five years, to provide a holistic and long-lasting learning experience in partnership with the Ron Brown Scholar Program.

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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