A crowd of families, students, and teachers erupted in cheers and applause as 81 graduating seniors entered the school gym at Great Oaks Legacy Charter High School.
Students filled in their seats row-by-row, with smiles and grins on their faces as they high-fived each other, waved to a sea of loved ones and struck poses like they were welcoming paparazzi.
One parent jumped to her feet and loudly cheered as her daughter walked to the stage to announce the college she will attend this fall.
“I’m so proud of her,” the parent told TAPinto, wiping away her tears.
The graduating class has been accepted to over 850 colleges and celebrated by announcing it to family, friends, classmates, alumni, teachers, and younger Great Oaks students during Signing Day. Many of them will be the first in their families to attend college.
Signing Day was originally known as the day college-bound Division I athletes announce where they have signed a commitment letter to a college sports team. Academic signing days have become more popular nationwide within the last decade, and are a capstone to the year at many of Newark's high-performing public charter schools.
“I always knew I wanted to go to college,” Benjina Laurent, the class valedictorian, said. She had been a student at the charter network since she was in sixth grade. Laurent will attend Lehigh University, a selective private research university in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
“Great Oaks helped a lot, not only in the college process but giving us rigorous courses so that we’ll be prepared to do the work that we will be doing in the fall,” she said.
This is Great Oaks Legacy Charter High School’s third graduating class. About 89% of the kids who graduated from high school are still in college and on track to graduate, according to Executive Director Jared Taillefer.
Great Oaks Charter Schools is a network of schools throughout the Tri-State area and Delaware. In Newark, Great Oaks serves 1,600 students in Pre-K through 12th grade, across four campuses.
Students at the high school are supported through the college process with the help of counselors. The counselors take a holistic approach to factor grades, family financial circumstances, and content area students want to study when helping students find a good fit.
“The community was able to see a variety of schools students planned to go. It was a testament of our mission, of what we’re trying to do and that is preparing students for college success,” said Monet Kendall-Turner, Director of College Counseling.
Brianna Edionseri will attend Morgan State University, a historically black university in Baltimore, Maryland. The help she received to be on track for college application deadlines and completing the federal application for student aid (FAFSA) made a world of difference, she said.
What she’s looking forward to most about going to Morgan State this fall is a fresh start.
“I want to try a lot of different things. I want to see what different clubs I can get into and how many ways I can get involved and interact with my peers on campus,” Edionseri said. “I know when you get to college, that’s when you truly find yourself.”