Tony Alleyne helps prepare high schoolers for college and beyond

March 24, 2023

Photos courtesy Delaware College Scholars

When students thrive from their educational experiences, it often inspires them to be change agents. That’s proven true for Penn GSE alum Tony Alleyne, whose journey as a student and educator led him to found the Delaware College Scholars, a free college prep program to support under-resourced high school and college students.

DCS prepares students for higher ed’s academic and social rigors, supporting them through the application process and their college years. The centerpiece is three 3-week-long summer sessions on a residential campus in Delaware – currently Delaware State University – followed by ongoing support during participants’ college years.

The program exposes students to possibilities in higher education. On average, DCS reports that 64 percent of under-resourced high-achievers graduate from high school, and only eight percent attend four-year schools. As founder and executive director, Alleyne is intent on disrupting that cycle.

Tony Alleyne
In 2016, Alleyne earned his Ed.D. in educational leadership from Penn GSE. He had already started DCS, but Penn GSE helped him refine his communication and presentation skills and hone his critical thinking.

“Penn GSE helped me to look through the lease of ‘What is the evidence? Why are we doing this?’” Alleyne recalls. “I connect with scholars and see myself in them, but I needed to articulate that to investors and corporations.”

The evidence speaks to DCS’ success. Among its scholars:

  • 100% graduate high school
  • 98% successfully transition to college
  • 92% enroll in a four-year institution
  • 93% continue in higher education beyond freshman year

Alleyne’s own education paved the way. As a middle schooler in a public school in Brooklyn, New York, a teacher urged Alleyne to participate in Prep for Prep’s Prep 9, which identifies high-achieving students of color and prepares them to attend boarding school in the Northeast.

Alleyne spent two summers at Prep for Prep’s residential program and attended high school at St. Andrew’s School in Delaware, where he graduated cum laude.

“There are so many students within public schools who are capable, but they don’t know what they don’t know. The residential experience for me opened up a lot of opportunities,” he says.

After graduating from Wesleyan University, Alleyne worked for Teach for America as a teacher in Charlotte and a corps member advisor at the Philadelphia Institute and the New Jersey Seeds program. These experiences, he says, led him to launch a similar program for Delaware students.

“I knew my fights for years to come would be to get more educational equity and do what I could for low-income and black and brown bodies,” he recalls.

In coordination with St. Andrews and the Delaware Board of Education, the program started small, welcoming its first 30 students in the summer of 2014.  At first, only three of Delaware’s school districts participated, then a few more joined. Now, all 19 are on board.

About 110 new scholars will be accepted this year, and Alleyne hopes to grow to 150 next year. DCS invites students from Charlotte, N.C., and Delaware to participate, and they’re all trailblazers. About 95 percent of participants are the first in their families to attend college.

"Once we had the scholars and the families being that living testament of the impact of the work we’re doing, the momentum pushed really strong to the point we have all the Delaware districts and expanded to Charlotte,” Alleyne says.

On campus, DCS scholars participate in three academic courses: a Socratic-style humanities seminar, a math course, test prep, and college counseling. Alleyne says the rigorous courses resemble college-level classes and provide a taste of higher education. As rising seniors, the scholars dig into the college process, and staff helps them identify potential colleges, prepare applications, and write essays.

Once students go to college, DCS remains by their side. Advisors check in with students regularly, visit them at school, and communicate by phone, email, and text.

Students say the program has helped them identify opportunities and navigate the tangled college admissions process.

“I would have struggled immensely throughout the college process if I did not have the guidance and support that DCS offered me,” said a program participant named Ailyn.

Damien, another scholar, added: “With all of the SAT prep and Humanities coursework, DCS made me believe that college would be in my future.”

Of course, college isn’t all classes and homework, so scholars learn life skills to help them succeed away from home. They participate in yoga, group exercise classes, basketball games, nutrition lessons, and book clubs. In the evenings, they have study halls to help with homework and organizational skills. Former DCS scholars serve as student advisors and are on hand for support.

“We are intentional about wellness and letting scholars know we all need balance,” Alleyne says. They need to value social-emotional wellness, like being outside vs. inside all the time, nutrition, and the importance of counseling to deal with anxiety and stress.”

“College isn’t about sitting there studying 24-7. It is about balance.”