Youth scholar Michael Prather celebrates with city and school officials. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
Youth scholar Michael Prather celebrates with city and school officials. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

When Trachtenberg Scholarship award recipient Michael Prather matriculates to The George Washington University (GW) in the fall, he will do so alongside nine other young people from the District who also won’t have to worry about tuition, books, room and board or fees.

For Prather, this milestone culminates a high school career peppered with moments of hardship and triumph, during which he learned to persevere and rely on the moral support of friends, family and teachers who saw his potential. Just days after becoming the first-ever H.D. Woodson senior to win such an honor, he stressed this point with great enthusiasm.

“A lot of times when I looked down on myself, I had that village behind me. It’s so surreal making history,” said Prather, 18. “The fact that I’m doing it at a local school [shows] that I can motivate others [because] now it’s a possibility.”

Last week, GW President Thomas LeBlanc, accompanied by a large George Washington mascot, DC Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) surprised Prather with the scholarship announcement during a morning assembly — much like what other Trachtenberg Scholarship recipients often experience.

Prather, an aspiring computer scientist hailing from Southeast, transferred to H.D. Woodson in the 10th grade after struggling at Banneker Academic High School in Northwest. By the third semester of his freshman year, he had plans to study elsewhere. However. before entering H.D. Woodson’s Information Technology/Computer Science Career Academy, Prather had to wrap up his freshman year — and raise his grade point average — at Ballou Senior High School.

In the three years since he entered H.D. Woodon, Prather has immersed himself in the computer science field, even securing an internship at Accenture where he helped develop a study-abroad mobile app. As a member of the H.D Woodson’s track and football teams, Prather also learned how to manage his time and dedicate every moment possible to finishing his school and spending time with his father, brother, uncles and other family members.

“Some students from H.D. Woodson have a defeated mindset, but this can show them that they can beat the odds and rise above the criticism. It’s something I can’t take away. It’s part of my legacy,” Prather told The Informer.

The Trachtenberg Scholarship program — named after former GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg — provides high school seniors from D.C.’s public and public charter schools with a four-year scholarship. The award, initially known as the 21st Century Scholarship, has been in existence since 1989, serving as a means of attracting District youth to GW.

Last fall, GW undergraduate admissions representatives held information sessions about the Trachtenberg Scholarship at Petworth Library in Northwest, Anacostia Library in Southeast, and the second floor of GW’s Cloyd Heck Marvin Center.

Seven out of 10 young people who won the Trachtenburg Scholarship — including Prather — attend a District public school, including: Banneker, Roosevelt STAY Opportunity Academy., Coolidge High School, Wilson High School and Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

At H.D. Woodson, located in Ward 7, Prather found a home within the Information Technology/Computer Science cohort, one of four academies under the purview of the National Academy Foundation through which students are immersed in academic disciplines early in their high school experience. The selective NAF academies — which include college and career readiness, and resume preparation opportunities — have been opened to the entire student population.

H.D. Woodson Principal William Massey said that Prather’s achievement has breathed life into a school community that has been on the cusp of change.

“Michael sets the bar for young people at H.D. Woodson who want to go college and may not believe it’s accessible,” Massey said. “They have a shining example of what that can be. It has recharged us and put us back into focus [about] the reason why we do the work.

“The word is out in the community that H.D. Woodson has scholars and resources to make sure students who graduate can access college and career,” he said.

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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