After $650,000 donation for scholarships, Highland Park High School students have help in realizing dreams

From left: Highland Park High School seniors Alexandria Williams, Taveion Lamb, D’Andre Phillips and Princess Harris attended a conference in Florida about children and homelessness with Topeka USD 501 superintendent Tiffany Anderson. They said the experience changed their minds about their futures forever. All four of the Highland Park Scots say they want to pursue college after graduating in May. A $650,000 gift from an anonymous donor announced this week may help these four and other Highland Park graduates achieve their dreams beyond high school. (File photo/The Capital-Journal)

“Elation” and “astonishment” are just a couple of the emotions Pamela Johnson-Betts said she felt when finding out an anonymous donor was giving $650,000 in scholarships to Highland Park High School graduates.


“Our youth deserve this,” said Johnson-Betts, executive director of the Topeka Public Schools Foundation. “Scholarships build people. They give people the opportunities they can use for a lifetime.”

The criteria for the scholarships are still being ironed out, Johnson-Betts said, after Topeka USD 501 superintendent Tiffany Anderson announced the endowed gift during Thursday’s board of education meeting. She does know that the donor wants the money, which will earn interest, to be used to help Highland Park graduates get into any form of post-secondary education, whether college, technical school or an “advanced trajectory.”

“Our board is over the moon, that we’re allowed to do something sizable for this district,” Johnson-Betts said, adding that few school districts receive this amount of money and that it is going to a high school with higher poverty rates. According to the Kansas State Department of Education, 80.5 percent of Highland Park High School students are economically disadvantaged.

“For many of our Highland Park students, they haven’t been able to look beyond their means,” she said. “This (gift) gives hope where hope wasn’t there before.”

Johnson-Betts wouldn’t say whether the donor was a Topeka resident. She said the donation, being made during Highland Park High School’s 100th anniversary year, is “motivational and inspirational” in that it tells Highland Park studentsthat they can achieve their dreams beyond high school. Too many times, she said, they hear from adults that they believe in them, but no additional help, especially financial, comes their way for building a life after graduation.

“We’re taking away that stumbling block,” Johnson-Betts said. “Our expectation is that you can achieve because there’s nothing standing in your way now. This is a reality. Now we’ve got the backing to prove it.”

She said the amount of each scholarship hasn’t been decided, or whether there will be any stipulations on the types of post-secondary institutions eligible.

“I’m really excited for the opportunities that will be in place for decades to come,” said Beryl New, principal at Highland Park High School since 2010. “I know this gift will eliminate a lot of barriers that would have kept them from achieving their goals. Our kids deserve the best.”

Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or follow her on Twitter @AngelaDeines.