WASHINGTON, DC — Alexander Acosta, an eighth grader at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., was recently named a Caroline D. Bradley scholar by the Institute for Educational Advancement.
Alexander is one of 28 gifted middle school students to receive the four-year scholarship, which will allow them to attend academically challenging high schools.
For Alexander, the scholarship enabled him to attend St. Albans, where his brother Benjamin, who had previously won the same scholarship, was already a student.
“We had Benjamin apply and he got in,” said Joann Acosta, the boys’ mother. “He looked at a few different schools, and then once he got in, we of course wanted Alex to go the same school. So that’s kind of how he wound up in there.”
In addition to being more challenging than the public schools the brothers had previously attended, St. Albans is also much more expensive, about $50,000 a year each, according to Joann Acosta.
“That’s not even including books and trips or any of those things,” she said. Getting the second scholarship was like lightning striking their family twice, but in a good way.
“Alexander possesses the passion and curiosity we look for in our Caroline D. Bradley scholars,” said Betsy Jones, IEA’s co-founder and president. “His outstanding academic ability, compassion and deep thirst for knowledge in multiple content areas were clear indicators that he’d thrive in an accelerated learning environment. We look forward to collaborating with Alexander and nurturing his love of learning.”
Students apply for the scholarship when they’re in seventh grade and must complete a rigorous portfolio review, which includes essays, middle school transcripts, two recommendations, and a work sample. For his work sample, Alexander submitted a short story that had already earned an award.
“They are both very bright, very advanced students,” Joann Acosta said, of her sons. “They’re gifted students. And so it’s always a challenge finding in the public schools resources and really just keeping them challenged in school.”
Alexander has an affinity for math, but he discovered that he had to retake algebra after finishing a placement exam at St. Albans. This was a bit of a surprise because he’d completed honors algebra at his public middle school.
“This entire past year I kept saying, ‘Is this redundant? Do you feel like this was boring?’ He said, ‘No, I’m learning things that I had never learned when I was in public school,'” Joann Acosta said. “It was just very striking to him the difference in the quality of the education.”
Seeing that difference, as well as observing the recent social unrest in the District, opened Alexander’s eyes to the disparity among different communities, especially between people of color and more privileged groups. That inspired him to propose a project at St. Albans to address that disparity.
“I’ve started a tutoring program that will help inner city students here in D.C.,” Alexander said. “The volunteer coordinator just hopped in to help me. My algebra teacher also helped. She’s sort of become the math specialist at my school, so she’s been willing to help.”
Though still in the planning stages, Alexander’s goal is to tutor the students in competitive math.
“The thing that really stood out to Alex and to us as a family is that we have a lot to share,” Joann Acosta said. “Not just in terms of the math itself, but I think more in terms of cultural capital, just the various things that help you move upward in society.”
Like most other students in the District, Alexander is currently studying virtually at home, which has proved to be an unusual experience.
“I like to swim, but I haven’t been able to during this coronavirus,” he said. “So, right now I’m actually on the cross country team, so most days I run. I like to read outside of school and school takes up most of my days. It’s not as hard as it was last year when we started by doing online school, but the teachers have made it pretty easy to learn.”
This article originally appeared on the Washington DC Patch