Every year, Dorothye Craft will send a Christmas card to each student enrolled in the Silas Craft Collegians Program at Howard Community College.
The program, which bears the name of Craft's husband, helps recent high school graduates — who may have struggled academically — to reach their potential at Howard Community College through small class sizes, tutoring and mentorship.
Craft's gesture is a small example of the support students receive.
"I just want them to know I'm in their corner," she said.
On Monday, Howard Community College held its annual fundraiser supporting scholarships in the Silas Craft Collegians Program. More than 350 people attended the dinner at Hunan Manor in Columbia, including Congressman Elijah Cummings, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and a number of other local elected officials.
The Silas Craft Collegians Program, founded in 2000, is named after Silas E. Craft Sr, who was the principal at Harriet Tubman High School — Howard County's first secondary school for blacks — for seven years. Craft also served as the principal of Cooksville High School in the 1940s.
"If you were a teacher in his school and you didn't care about that student, bye-bye," Craft said, making a waving motion with her hand.
Her husband died of cancer in 1995.
The program at Howard Community College aims to maximize academic achievement, retention, graduation, and the transfer rate for the students.
Fifty-four students are enrolled in the program this year, although that figure is typically between 65 and 75, according to Pam Cornell, director of the Silas Craft Collegians Program.
"It means a second chance for a lot of students," Cornell said. "These are students who definitely have potential, but there was a gap between their potential and their performance."
After completing their associate's degree, the majority of students transfer to a four-year college or university, with most choosing between Towson University, University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Maryland, College Park, Cornell said.
Cornell credits the success of the program to its comprehensive approach, which includes a focus on each individual student. She said staff has yet to find a program like it across the country.
"I've known programs that have some of our components, but not the entire, comprehensive program we have," she said.
Students enrolled in the program credit the smaller class sizes and tutoring sessions for their success at Howard Community College.
Louiza Addy, a 2012 Hammond High School graduate, is in her third year at Howard pursuing an associate's degree in nursing.
Addy said she most likely would have attended Howard Community College even if she was not part of the collegians program, but acknowledged she might be struggling without it.
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The program has made her more comfortable in class because of the smaller class sizes.
"If I need help [on schoolwork] and I'm not sure how to do it, I can always ask a friend," she said.
After graduating from Eleanor Roosevelt High School, 19-year-old Freddy Ramirez said the Silas Craft Collegians Program is what attracted him to Howard Community College.
Ramirez said he was easily discouraged by poor grades in high school and it got to the point where he just wanted a fresh start.
He said he has gotten that and the support he needs at Howard.
"Whenever I need assistance or someone to talk to, I can always go to one of the advisers that work within Silas," he said.
The application deadline for Silas Craft Collegians for the fall 2015 semester is April 15.