Academics, Park Forest, Scholarships, Schools

Three Southland College Prep Charter High School Seniors Awarded Nearly $1 Million Total in Full Scholarships

Bri'yon Watts, Kamaria Gutter, Kevin Carter
Bri’Yon Watts, Kamaria Gutter, and Kevin Carter are three Southland College Prep Charter High School seniors who earned a cumulative total of nearly $ 1 million in four-year full scholarships to top universities from the QuestBridge National College Match Program. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)

Richton Park, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Three Southland College Prep Charter High School seniors earned a cumulative total of nearly $ 1 million in four-year full scholarships to top universities from the QuestBridge National College Match Program.

The three Southland College Prep seniors, Kevin Carter, Kamaria Gutter and Bri’Yon Watts, were selected among 1,464 finalists out of 18,500 applicants to earn full four-year scholarships, including room and board, books and supplies, fees and travel expenses with no loans to Brown University, Washington University and Duke University respectively.  

“These QuestBridge awards to an extraordinary group of dedicated and focused students in this extraordinary year are remarkable,” said Dr. Blondean Davis, Southland College Prep CEO.

“The QuestBridge program, which connects high-achieving high school seniors with scholarships to the nation’s top colleges, provides unlimited potential and unlimited possibilities for these talented young people,” Dr. Davis added.    

Collectively these scholarships are valued at close to $1 million, according to Robert Lane, Southland’s Director of College Admissions and Alumni Relations.

“History was made this year when three Southland seniors earned QuestBridge awards, an unprecedented accomplishment for a school of Southland’s size of 530 students.  In the previous four straight years, Southland had single awardees who attend the University of Pennsylvania, Emory University, the University of Chicago and Dartmouth College,” Lane explained.

QuestBridge is a national program that connects high-achieving high school seniors from underprivileged backgrounds to the program’s 42 college partners which include top liberal arts colleges and research universities.

This year’s awardees wrote more than 100 essay responses to earn their QuestBridge awards, he added.

Kevin Carter, 18, of Olympia Fields, Illinois, will be the first Southland student to attend Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.  Carter is undecided regarding his major but is looking forward to Brown’s open curriculum which “gives me an opportunity to really explore my options,” he said. He has a strong interest in climate change and also creative writing.

Carter, who plays the trumpet, has been a member of Southland’s concert and marching bands since he was a freshman. This year, he also is a member of the jazz band and wind ensemble. Throughout high school he was a member of the basketball and track teams and was a member of Southland’s Interact Club which focuses on community service.

Carter said that the academic rigor of Southland and the challenges he has faced from losing his mother to cancer in seventh grade and going to school remotely during his senior year have prepared him for the challenges of college. 

“I’ve learned that I can overcome any circumstance,” Carter said.

Kamaria Gutter, 17, of Richton Park, Illinois, will attend Washington University in St. Louis where she plans to major in urban studies and psychology.

At Southland, Gutter participated in Mock Trial, Teens Helping Teens, Interact and the dance program. Her passion is JB (James Brown) roller skating. Gutter, who has been roller skating since she was two-years-old, describes it as a skating style grounded in the dance movements of the legendary soul singer.  In several of her essays for the QuestBridge scholarship, Gutter said she wrote about her JB skating experience and the “great bonds and friendships” that she developed through the sport.

Through her studies at Washington University, Gutter, who will be a first-generation college student, hopes to create change in communities such as the south suburbs of Chicago which have experienced economic challenges and the loss of both businesses and residents. She wants to work in some type of community outreach as a career where she will be able to bring more resources to communities like the one where she grew up, Gutter said.

“If you want to see a difference you have to step up and be that difference,” Gutter said.

Bri’Yon Watts, 17, of Richton Park, Illinois, will attend Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where he plans to major in psychology or perhaps double major in psychology and theater.

Watts has excelled in academics, athletics and the arts as a student at Southland on the state and national level. He has been a member of Southland’s speech team for four years and was a member of the 2019 Illinois High School Association state championship Performance in the Round group that performed “Sarafina.” In 2020, he placed fifth in Dramatic Duet Acting at the IHSA state competition and also was a finalist in the Chicago August Wilson Monologue Competition. This year, he placed fifth nationally in the National Speech & Debate Association poetry final.

On the track, Watts competed in the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles in the state championship last year.  During the summer, he also runs for the Zephyrs Track Club and in 2019 he won the 400-meter hurdles (15-16-year-old boys) in the USA Track and Field (USATF) national meet in Sacramento, Calif. 

Watts is the president of Southland’s National Honor Society chapter, a speech executive board member and co-captain of the track team.

As a leader, Watts said that helping his classmates through this unusual senior year, which has been built on remote learning, has been one of his goals.

“I’ve tried to make sure everybody stays encouraged and focused,” said Watts, who will be a first-generation college student. “We’ve been looking forward to our end goals and we’re not going to let the pandemic hinder us.”

Amid the pandemic, Southland’s Class of 2021 has persisted, according to Lane. Seniors have in engaged in 7.5 hours of remote instruction five days a week. More than 80 percent of the senior class has already been accepted to four-year colleges and accumulated more than $8 million in scholarship, “with more to come,” Lane said.