By Bonnie Raskin, Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship Director
In the course of my fifteen years at the Institute for Educational Advancement at the helm of the Caroline D. Bradley (CDB) Scholarship program, I’m often asked, “What exactly do you do? What’s a typical workday?” So I’m here to set the record straight and hopefully provide some answers. First of all, there is no “typical” day which is precisely why I never get bored as the program director of CDB. In short, CDB runs year round with very little down time per se. The CDB team is comprised of myself and my extremely effective and efficient colleague, Mallory Aldrich. We are responsible for the approximately 150 CDB Scholars who are active within the program from 8th grade through high school, as well as maintaining contact with parents, CDB alumni, educators, organizing our CDB Selection Committees and the annual three day Bradley Seminar, collaborating with partner organizations who work with gifted students and assisting people interested in learning about and applying for the CDB Scholarship. Mallory and I are ably assisted by the IEA team who help with our marketing, tuition payments, Finalist interviews, development, data collection and all manner of IT assistance.
We base our schedule around an academic calendar beginning anew for the year right after Labor Day in early September with the annual selection of new CDB Scholars. Roughly, the CDB year plays out as follows: the new class of Scholars is announced in early September which begins the cycle of “virtually” introducing the nationwide CDB rising 8th graders to each other and learning about them as the exceptional individuals they are. Then begins several months in the fall months of interactive research about high school programs and our follow up with each Scholar as they visit and apply to at least three high schools or programs that best suit their learning styles and academic goals. At the same time, we’re actively monitoring the transition from middle school to freshman year of high school for the entering 9th grade CDB class, making sure the returning high school Scholars are still well placed at their schools, working with the CDB high school seniors in their college application process, checking with the new class of CDB alumni as they enter college and begin work on the upcoming year’s CDB application and important program dates, organize our national selection committees who work with us to select that year’s CDB Finalists and begin sketching out the three day Bradley Seminar which encompasses travel, lodging, meals, activities, workshops and socializing for our entire CDB community of high school students, parents, guest speakers and educators with support from the entire IEA team. All of the CDB Scholars are responsible for submitting their midterm and final term grades and teacher comments to the CDB team which is followed by individual feedback we proved to each Scholar. Within the new class, it’s rare that we are not in touch with them either by phone or email every two weeks to check in and get to know them and how their high school selection process is going.
Winter involves making sure all of the high school and college CDB applications have been completed and submitted within their deadlines, as well as personal recommendation letters and CDB information to all of the colleges being applied to by our college applicant Scholars. The new CDB application is online by now, so in addition to at least three webinars we conduct to provide information and answer questions, we are available to work with prospective applicants, recommenders and schools by phone or email. Plans for the Bradley Seminar are solidifying with the theme selected and agenda being meticulously planned out. Individual Scholars are inquiring about recommendations for summer internships that we will assist with. Winter term grades are coming in and holiday wishes extended back and forth. Scholars are hearing from their Early Decision and Early Action colleges, so that always brings a round of congratulations or calming messages about hanging in there and doing whatever we can to alleviate stress and anxiety on the part of our Scholars. This is also the time we work with any of our high school Scholars who are considering transferring for any number of reasons to a different high school program or looking for an alternate educational experience. One of the exceptional aspects of the CDB program is our flexibility to handle each individual’s ongoing academic requirements and to advocate for each Scholar should they seek to expand their horizons.
Spring is the Bradley Seminar, a highlight of the CDB program for all involved and in April the due date for that year’s CDB applications when Mallory and I go into lockdown mode to process and read the hundreds of eligible applications that we receive. By early May, we have divided the top tier applications into groups of approximately 55-60 each that will be sent to the members of our mulitple selection committees for their evaluations. The end of May- early June involves Mallory, our IEA president and my travel to meet with the selection committees to select that year’s CDB Finalists who we will spend the summer traveling throughout the United States to interview them as the next phase of the CDB selection process. Spring is also when our Scholars hear the results of their high school and college applications, so it is a time filled with tremendous emotions and a lot of support extended to our Scholars as we support and work with them to finalize their high school and college decisions.
Summer brings extensive travel for the CDB team as well as support from our SoCal staff in conducting local CDB Finalist interviews and helping organize our schedule that extends from June- August when we have the heady experience of meeting a group of awesome and awe-inspiring CDB Finalists and parents from coast to coast. The end of the summer brings the selection of that year’s CDB class.
Mallory and I function as connectors throughout the work we do during the year. We help new Scholars connect with high school Scholars when they visit new schools that have current CDB Scholars in attendance; we connect CDB alumni and parents with current CDB Scholars looking for potential mentors or having questions to ask of fellow community members regarding their careers, current occupations or life out in the “real world.” We connect organizations interested in the work we do with IEA programs and initiatives as well as attend local and national conferences and conduct webinars and monthly gifted support group meetings on site to inform interested people in what CDB and IEA are about.
It is impossible to fall through the cracks, so to speak, as a CDB Scholar. Mallory and I simply won’t let that happen. We work very hard to develop ongoing trust-based relationships with all of our Scholars and communicate regularly with them as additional support systems or advocates when it comes to any issue they might be facing at school—with their classes, teachers, peers– or as they navigate finding balance in their often very fully scheduled lives. We work to impart life lessons to the CDB community about being proactive when it comes to their own educational paths, seeking guidance and assistance from teachers and mentors when/as needed and strive to help them develop strategies and skills to alleviate the stresses, anxieties and expectations inherent in being teenagers in general and being at competitive academic environments in particular.
So going back to the first paragraph of this attempt to de-mystify CDB, Mallory and my day always encompasses reading and responding to MANY emails from our Scholars, their parents, admissions officers at the high schools we work with as well as introducing new schools to the CDB program and Scholars. We attend regular weekly meetings that are part of IEA as well as appointments outside the office or with visitors by people interested in learning more about CDB who are visiting SoCal and stop by our office in Pasadena, CA. We spend time daily checking in with each other as collaborators in working with an incredibly diverse population of students in how best to support and assist them in areas as varied as course selection to confidence building when it comes to trying new activities or accelerated classes outside familiar comfort zones. We are ever-present cheerleaders, confidence builders and at times deliverers of wakeup calls when needed to help motivate Scholars to get back on track should their grades slip. CDB is a merit-based scholarship program with contractual guidelines that are monitored and enforced. That said, our motivation as the officers of the CDB program is to always work with our Scholars to enable them to be the prime movers on their own academic journeys, accounting for ups and downs as they occur. With many of our students who always expect super-human results from every test and each class grade and teacher comment, we work to “humanize” sometimes unrealistic goals and perfectionistic tendencies that can trip up even the most accomplished, high achievers among our cohort.
It is a tremendous pleasure and privilege to get to know and work with the CDB Scholar community and watch these young people develop their full potentials from the “newbies” we meet as middle schoolers, through high school, college and beyond. With nine classes of CDB college graduates since the program’s inception in 2002, we now have CDB alums who are married, have their own future CDB Scholars 😊 and are well into their adult lives. It’s not many jobs or careers that afford its staff the incredible opportunity to change someone’s life for the better and to experience tremendous appreciation and gratitude for the largesse of all that the CDB Scholarship offers and the work we do in support of this program and these fabulous young people . I feel truly blessed to experience these rewards on an almost daily basis through my colleagues at IEA and the CDB community at large. Perhaps I don’t skip into work every day, but I am so grateful for the work I get to do and the people I do it with.