This High School's Entire First Graduating Class Defied The Odds And Got Accepted To College

“You can be a Black or brown student who's going off to great schools to do great things.”

On Saturday, May 20, a transformation 20 years in the making will be complete when the first-ever senior class graduates from Charles R. Drew Charter School, Atlanta's first public charter school. Out of 82 students, 100 percent are not only expected to graduate, but have already been accepted to college. 

This is no small feat for the once-troubled East Lake neighborhood, where only 30 percent of students could graduate from high school, before the East Lake Foundation, one of 16 Purpose Built Communities across the country, revitalized the community by improving health, housing, and, of course, education. 



Drew Charter School's Class of 2017 
Drew Charter School's Class of 2017  Catherine Woodling

"Drew has an excellent community where you constantly have the teachers and staff pushing you to accomplish what it is that you should be doing in life," Alvin Winston, a graduating senior and student leader who will attend Yale in the fall, told A Plus. In eighth grade, he and his peers learned the community was building a new high school. 

Automatically enrolled in the new high school, Winston and his friends were, nonetheless, apprehensive in a totally unfamiliar environment.  "When my friends and I started in ninth grade, there were days — weeks even — where we would talk to each other and be like, 'What on earth did we get ourselves into?'" he added. "And I would say at this point... I'm definitely glad that we decided to take that risk and come to a new high school." 

Because Winston and his peers were the first class of students to matriculate into Drew Charter High School, they've been at the forefront of creating and developing the school's extracurricular programs, encompassing everything from arts to athletics. "...The older we've become, the more responsibility we've been given as students," Winston explained. "So we were really able to play a more active role in terms of creating the traditions and legacies that we will leave behind as students."

Alvin Winston
Alvin Winston Catherine Woodling

 As a member of Drew's Student Government Association (SGA), Winston was especially integral to engineering this legacy. And even with just a day left in his high school career, he still credits his SGA peers with reminding him of their organization's mission and who he, as a student leader, is actually advocating for every day. 

But perhaps more than any student government precedent, the mere example set by Winston and his peers are destined to have an impact long after their 82 graduation caps land. "One thing that I personally hope happens for future classes is now that they have seen the class of 2017 not only matriculate through high school but reach that 100 percent college acceptance rate... I'm hoping that they're seeing that it is very well possible for students like them to accomplish what it is they set out to do," Winston said. 

During his high school career, he "didn't necessarily see a lot of students who looked liked [him] in terms of being African American, male, from a single-parent household" go to Ivy League schools. He aims for his class's legacy to tell other students: "You can be a Black or brown student who's going off to great schools to do great things." 

Alvin Winston and two of his peers, each holding up a flag representing the colleges they will attend in the fall.
Alvin Winston and two of his peers, each holding up a flag representing the colleges they will attend in the fall. Catherine Woodling

While Winston acknowledges the college application process is a "crapshoot" fraught with variables beyond any student's control — himself included — he nonetheless encourages younger peers to stay positive. "I really want students to be able to see that when you create your dreams and when you work towards your dreams and your goals that there's going to be nothing that can stop you," he affirmed. "Not only can you do it, but it's been done before by people who are like you." 

That's exactly what Winston has told himself and his friends as they have navigated the "different type of beast" that has been senior year. Besides needing to meet their high school's necessary graduation requirements, while doing well in their normal classes and participating in extracurricular activities, many of Drew's students attend classes at Georgia State through a dual enrollment program. Add to that a plethora of college and, consequently, scholarship applications to finance college. Of course, that's "not to say that because students before you have done it that should make it any easier for you — because it doesn't," Winston explained. "But because students before you have done it, that it certainly is possible for you also to push past that obstacle.... You have to remain persistent and push past those obstacles, even though they seem daunting." 

After all, he would know. Before applying and getting accepted into Yale, Winston originally applied early to Harvard. After he was deferred, however, he had to adapt and apply to 12 more colleges over his last holiday break.  "It was a very difficult time emotionally," he said, "but even in that I remained open-minded throughout the process to let it take me where it took me." With the support of his "close group of friends," his family, and Drew's college counselor who looked over each and every one of Winston's 13 applications, he ended up somewhere pretty great. 

Catherine Woodling
Catherine Woodling

And the greatest part of all? He's in good company. 

Besides Winston, who intends to study political science and African American studies with a concentration in ethnicity, race, and migration, his fellow seniors will begin the next phase of their educations at a wide range of colleges from Brandeis University to Georgia State to University of Miami. Those institutions, like Drew Charter School, will be lucky to have them. 



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