Three Ponaganset grads awarded $4,000 scholarships, thanks to generous alumnus

Three Ponaganset grads awarded $4,000 scholarships, thanks to generous alumnus

The First Class Scholars from Ponaganset and their mentors are, from left, Karyn Sarkis, scholar Calvin Taylor, Anne Ejnes, scholar Kayleigh Jones, Gary Martinelli, and scholar Derek Santos.

GLOCESTER - The exceptional generosity of a California man who was among the first graduates of Ponaganset High School has made it possible for three PHS graduates who overcame personal adversities to be the first in their families to attend college.

Skip Battle, a member of the Ponaganset High School Class of 1962, who now lives on the West Coast, donated $250,000 over five years to the Ponaganset Education Foundation, or PEF, with the provision that the local foundation take over the scholarship program and begin fundraising to keep it solvent in the years ahead.

This year, Battle's gift saw three recent PHS graduates each awarded $4,000 scholarships - that's $4,000 each year they're in college - in the first awards of what is being called the First Class Scholars Program. "First Class" refers both to Battle's membership in the first PHS class and the fact that awardees are first in their families to attend college.

The three scholarship winners, all from Glocester, are: Kayleigh Jones, 18, who will attend Johnson & Wales University in the fall; Derek Santos, 17, heading to the University of Rhode Island; and Calvin Taylor, 18, going to Rhode Island College.

With about 50 family, friends and local educators in attendance, the three were honored Aug. 13 with pizza, soda and sandwiches at the Pinewood Pub & Pizza, off Route 44, in Glocester.

Each overcame personal adversity in his or her family life to finish high school and win acceptance at college. For instance, Santos explained that his father, David Santos, is in remission from cancer right now, but his illness, including debilitating rounds of chemotherapy, was "a detriment to our family income," Derek said. "We lost a lot of money."

Derek had his sights set on attending and living at URI to study computer engineering, but "we didn't know how we were going to pay for the whole thing," he said. "This (scholarship) almost cut the bill in half. This is a really big break."

Kayleigh and Calvin preferred to keep their family adversities private, but both were just as grateful as Derek to a man they never met.

"This means a lot," Calvin said. "It will make the next four years less stressful, and, when I think of where this money came from, I think it's really amazing that someone would do this. (Battle) must be a really great guy." Calvin intends to study criminal justice at RIC.

"It's an opportunity to better myself," said Kayleigh, "and to find some security while I am going through a radical transition." Battle, she said, "seems like a great guy to start this whole thing, it's amazing." She intends to study media and communication while commuting to Johnson & Wales.

According to Anne E. Ejnes, chair of the Glocester School Committee, and Nancy R. Mendizabal, who are both members of the PEF board, the local foundation began about eight years ago and regularly gives grants of between $750 and $2,500 to the high school and the middle school "for anything teachers want that would enhance the educational experience of the students." Grant-winning projects must be sustainable and an innovative idea outside the budget process, and in the past have included a reading club, an outdoor garden classroom, and the purchase of tablet computers.

The three scholarship recipients have been paired with adult mentors from the PEF, and each student has signed a formal agreement to, among other things, maintain full-time enrollment in college, earn at least a 2.25 GPA, and keep in regular contact with their local mentors. Students were required to apply for the scholarships and, after interviews, the winners were chosen by a selection panel that included PEF members and Ponaganset administrators. Battles' gift came after he attended the 50th anniversary celebration for PHS, a weekend event held at several sites including Foster Country Club and Twin River Casino. Several months later, Battle reached out to Supt. Michael Barnes about establishing a scholarship program similar to the one that the Battle Family Foundation directs in California.

To get a full idea of what the program involves, Battle paid to have Barnes, Mendizabal and Alisa Diakite, assistant principal at PHS, flown out to California to meet with him. "It's phenomenal," Barnes said of Battle's gift. "It creates additional opportunities for our kids to pursue college and careers." Barnes and PHS Principal David Estes were among the local educators who attended the Pinewood reception.

Battle also wanted to recognize a teacher who had a significant impact on his education, Ejnes said, so one of the scholarships is given in honor of Tom Hall, who was an English teacher at Ponaganset.