Most students don’t worry about how they’re going to pay for college until they’re in high school, when they get close to graduation.
But Rickie Robinson says that’s just not soon enough.
“If we can actually plant that in the back of their head in third grade, that will have an impact on their education and studies will show you that,” said Robinson.
So the former Tri-Citian and his family created a college scholarship with only one condition —students must have attended Virgie Robinson Elementary School in east Pasco.
The scholarship fund named for Robinson’s mom — one of Pasco’s great advocates for children and education — aims to help students who likely believe that higher education is unattainable.
The school is made up almost entirely of Hispanic students, many of them English language learners, with nearly all receiving free or reduced-price school meals because of their families’ economic status.
“At this age (elementary students) don’t understand financial aid but if you can get them thinking ahead, they have the concept,” said Mary Gutierrez, scholarship fund committee member.
“They think, ‘I want to be a fireman, I need training. I want to be a teacher, I need to go to college.’ ”
Robinson isn’t the only Tri-City elementary with its own scholarship. Kennewick’s Cascade Elementary School offers two $1,000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors who attended Cascade for at least two years, district officials said.
Any student who has attended Virgie Robinson, or lived in its attendance area, is eligible to apply for that scholarship.
The Pasco School District named its 11th elementary school after Virgie Robinson in 2005 and Rickie Robinson, who lives in Seattle, his three sisters and a niece formed the scholarship fund the same year.
The first $500 was awarded in 2006, and winners over the years have used it to go to Columbia Basin College, Central Washington University and University of Washington.
Virgie Robinson failed to graduate from high school as a teen but became a strong supporter of education after moving to Pasco in the ’40s.
She earned her GED and took classes at Columbia Basin College. She was named Pasco’s first ombudsman/home visitor in 1966, setting her on a course to work with the district’s most at-risk students.
Students at Robinson have heard about the scholarship a few times this year, including at an assembly on her birthday when her family donated a portrait of her to the school.
This will be the first year there will be an awards event for the scholarship, with five students and their families invited back to the school in May to receive $1,000 in front of current Robinson students.
“I think that it will be meaningful and special to the kids,” said Principal Wendi Manthei. “It will show the payoff.”
This year’s scholarships were made possible through a special gift, scholarship committee members said, but it’s an ongoing struggle to keep the scholarship funded.
An April 25 golf tournament is planned in Pasco to raise money for scholarships.
In the past, the tournament didn’t make money, but Rickie Robinson hopes this year turns the tide so students at Robinson can benefit.
“The time to make an impact on kids is the early years,” he said.