Ashley Hill is a shining example of identifying a need and creating change. That change is giving Black high school students the chance to dream bigger.
After her own experience with lack of support before and during her post-secondary education, Hill knew there had to be other students feeling as she did. She felt there was a lack of support for high school students in the African Nova Scotian community.
“I was really one of those students that unfortunately slipped through the cracks,” she says. “And I didn’t have information, access to exposure, resources or opportunities and … unfortunately, struggled in my journey.”
The high school honours student attended Dalhousie University but within her first year, her grades began to drop and she found herself on academic probation.
“I was … eventually asked to leave the university and fought through that transition,” she says, adding that she “came back strong, finished and now have created something that doesn’t allow students to go through the same experience that I did.”
What she created is The PREP Academy, a community-based non-profit that inspires and coaches African Nova Scotian students to plan, prepare and pursue college and university after high school.
After Hill earned her sociology degree from Dalhousie, she wanted to use her own first-year experience at the university to help other students excel. “I don’t mind sharing … my experience with students so that they’re informed.”
Founded in 2021, PREP Academy allows students to connect with mentors through workshops and one-on-one sessions. Student support workers and school boards across Nova Scotia have already embraced the organization, which visits schools to engage with the students on a monthly basis.
“September is a crucial time. Grade 12 students need to make decisions,” Hill says. “There’s no better time than the present to jump in and support students where they’re needed.”
Grade 12 students taking part in PREP Academy get help with transitioning from high school to post-secondary, what to expect during their first year, and identifying career options and fields of study. PREP Academy also helps students apply to college, universities and waves admission fees that may otherwise pose as a barrier. It also helps students find and apply for available scholarships.
“We just launched a scholarship directory in collaboration with the Black Educators Association on our website,” Hill says.
“Our goal is to really offer that support so students can successfully transition but also maintain and retain at the college and university level and go on to completion and earning a post-secondary credential.”
Hill and her team at PREP Academy are also offering the students help with self-care tips, wellness retreats and internship and mentorship opportunities.
“We’re all about giving students access and navigating them through resources, information, experiences and opportunities that will ensure the success of their future,” Hill says.
Celebrating Black Excellence aired every Wednesday during African Heritage Month on Global News Morning, in partnership with My East Coast Experience.