Jasmine Simmons applied for her first scholarship in 4th grade. After winning the $300 award from Kohl’s, she was hooked. It was the potential for scholarships that first drew her to Higher Achievement. “I was always looking for opportunities for scholarships and college trips,” says Jasmine. “When I learned about Higher Achievement, I was excited and saw so much potential about being in the program.”
She immediately found her place at the Boushall Achievement Center and blossomed in the energetic, welcoming atmosphere. “I was bullied a lot in elementary and middle school, but at Higher Achievement I felt safe and could thrive without judgment. It helped me feel better about a rough time in my life,” remembers Jasmine.
Jasmine credits Higher Achievement with giving her a platform to use her voice and strengthen her public speaking skills. She built confidence through poetry electives and opportunities to lead during Community Meetings. “It gave us the chance to say something. Those experiences helped form my desire to be active in other ways in my community, school, and church,” says Jasmine.
At Higher Achievement, Jasmine also had the opportunity to go on field trips, including overnight trips to colleges such as Virginia State and the University of Maryland. “It got me started early on thinking about where I wanted to go,” says Jasmine. “That experience is so rare. I see lots of kids my age now who don’t have the same readiness for college.”
Two experiences in her 8th-grade year at Higher Achievement shaped the direction of Jasmine’s future. Participating in a club at Higher Achievement sponsored by Capital One sparked Jamine’s interest in coding – a career direction she had not yet been exposed to. She started reading books about coding and her interest grew, culminating in her application and acceptance to CodeRVA, a specialty school in the city. “It was Higher Achievement that started it all,” attests Jasmine. “It opened up possibilities for me and helped me adapt to this school. I got so many opportunities at Higher Achievement, and that’s what has allowed me to thrive now.”
While working on her high school applications, Jasmine learned about a partnership between Virginia Union University and Richmond Public Schools to offer 50 RPS students a full ride to VUU. In a 2019 interview with Channel 8 news, Jasmine credits her parents with the encouragement and inspiration to apply for the scholarship, saying “With my parents, they encourage me to do things like this so that I can succeed in life and be better than everyone that’s come before me… [It would] be a way for me to pay back my parents and my family in general for everything that they’ve done for me.” Higher Achievement helped prepare Jasmine for the application process. “I was getting those writing skills at Higher Achievement by writing essays for specialty schools,” says Jasmine.
Jasmine was awarded the scholarship and plans to attend next fall as part of the class of 2027. She is excited about all of the new experiences to come in college and is considering what areas of study to focus on. “I’m thinking about a major in education administration, political science, or public relations, and a minor in theater, which is my hobby and passion,” says Jasmine.
Aside from the full ride, Jasmine appreciates having a mentor assigned to her as part of the VUU scholarship. It brings back fond memories of the relationships built at Center with her Higher Achievement mentors and peers. “Mentors were such a key component of the program,” remembers Jasmine. “I still keep in touch with my mentors. They send me birthday cards and wedding invitations, and a couple are coming to my high school graduation this year. And I also keep in touch with some of my fellow Higher Achievement alumni. One of my close friends from the program is even going to be going to VUU this fall! Those people and relationships really matter.”
Jasmine hopes to come back to Higher Achievement as a mentor herself next year as a college freshman. However, she hasn’t waited to give back to the next generation of scholars. When CodeRVA began a school-wide fundraising campaign for a local nonprofit, Jasmine nominated Higher Achievement to be the recipient of the funds.
Jasmine still holds close to her memories of Higher Achievement – particularly the feelings of spirit and unity fostered by shared activities such as chants and events like Green Apples. “I miss it. I remember certain chants, and even sometimes repeat them at home with my siblings, who also attended Higher Achievement!” laughs Jasmine. “I have so many memories. Being a scholar — that’s a part of me. To have that title makes me feel special. It took me a while to fully appreciate it, but even just using the title ‘scholar’ was a subconscious reminder about my expectations of myself. Being a scholar was something that would help me with grades, and with life.”