Harper High boasts two Gates Millennium Scholars, despite school’s struggle with violence

April 22, 2013

(Deonte photo courtesy of Embarc)
Deonte Tanner (left) and Brittney Knight are Harper High School’s first ever Gates Millennium Scholars. Harper principal Leonetta Sanders hopes having two students win the prestigious scholarship will help improve the school’s image.

WBEZ has reported a lot about Harper High School’s struggle with neighborhood violence. The stories prompted First Lady Michelle Obama to visit the school recently. This week, Harper High is celebrating some good news.

You might remember Deonte Tanner from This American Life’s story on Harper High. He was the kid who told me the extremes he goes to to stay away from gangs.        

DEONTE: I’ve been in the house for about three years… I’ve been staying in the house a lot.

Last week, Deonte got a letter in the mail…

DEONTE: I opened the folder, it’s like, ‘Congratulations!’ That’s all I had to see, and I just fell out—just congratulations.

Deonte and one other Harper student, Brittney Knight, are winners of the prestigious

Gates Millennium scholarship, awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

I met Brittney one report card day in the lunchroom, as she got this shout-out from Harper staff member Marcel Smith:

SMITH:  Straight A student right here! Straight As, all As! Brittney Knight!

BRITTNEY: Oh my God, he’s embarrassing me, putting me on blast! But I like it though.

This is the first time Harper has ever had a Gates winner.

SANDERS: Just so proud, so proud, so proud.

Principal Leonetta Sanders hopes having Gates Scholars will help change Harper’s image as a low-performing school in a tough, tough neighborhood.

SANDERS: ‘Cause it really shows how—even in the midst of so much issues and challenges—that students can still prevail and move on and do great things.

Deonte and Brittney will have tuition, room, and board paid for at the college of their choice. If they go to grad school in one of the disciplines Gates highlights, that will be paid for too—all the way through a doctoral degree.

One thousand needy minority students are receiving the scholarship across the country this week; 54,000 applied.

Brittney said she found out during her shift at McDonald’s that she won the scholarship; paying for college had been a concern for her family.

BRITTNEY: It lifted a big burden off our shoulders, ‘cause we were just talking about how much loans we were gonna take out, and what we were gonna pay out of pocket, and then this came. It was a blessing.

Both students want to study education. The full list of Gates Scholars will be made public later this week.

Linda Lutton is WBEZ's education reporter. Follow her @WBEZeducation