The program offers the students counseling and free college tuition at Concordia University. But the children have to hold up their end of the bargain.
Eleven-year-old Leah Lamar is only in sixth grade. But she and her father already know where she plans to go to college. That's because if she can keep her grades up, she can go for free thanks to Concordia University and Fifth Third Bank.
"I like this campus very much. It has activities that I would like to do," Leah said.
Twenty-two students, all from Roosevelt Middle School in Bellwood, are part of the program. If they can maintain As and Bs in school, Fifth Third promises to pay their tuition for four years at Concordia; that's nearly $30,000 a year now.
"With a sizable investment, what is the most direct impact we could have on some children's lives?" said Chip Reeves, Fifth Third Bank.
They will also help make sure the students succeed, providing them with counseling, mentors and even laptop computers.
"I'm confident that the majority of these young kids are going to achieve the goal of the program," said Dr. John Johnson, president, Concordia University.
"I want to be first to graduate," said Joel Alvarado, sixth grader.
The students are mostly African American or Hispanic and would face a number of socioeconomic challenges trying to pay for college. Leah is the youngest of Chester Lamar's 14 children.
"It is almost out of reach for people today," said Chester Lamar.
For most of us, our friends from middle school tend to scatter in all different directions from high school. But the 22 students in this program will be linked not only through high school and four years of college but hopefully as alumni of Concordia University.