PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WPVI) -- "I've thought about this a lot," said eighth-grade student Mercedez Ingram. "I really want to become a doctor."
Ingram had just wrapped up a hybrid class at St. James School, which has recently committed to creating more opportunities for students just like her.
"In our particular neighborhood, college access is limited," said David Kasievich, the Head of School at St. James, a tuition-free, private, and episcopal school in North Philadelphia. He cited financial barriers and standardized tests as two examples of hurdles to higher education.
That's why it's a huge step forward for the middle school's Graduate Support Program to partner with local colleges and universities such as Harcum College, Cabrini University, and Holy Family University.
"First, they'll be ensuring that students that are accepted are not going to be burdened with too much debt when they attend," said Kevin Todd, Director of Graduate Support. "They're going to be coordinating with me and my team to ensure that our students receive the appropriate academic and social-emotional support they need to succeed.
This program is designed to turn the page for low-income students, who may be the first in their families to attend a college or university. St. James vows to guide them into adulthood.
"Our first class of students here at St. James began in 2011 as fifth-graders," said Todd. "My team worked with them throughout their high school years and are now in their second year of college."
For Todd, these students are more like family.
"They were in my wedding. I talk to them on an hourly, weekly basis," he said. "That just goes to show you how important it is to never give up on a child and that's really our mentality in graduate support."
St. James also continues to be a resource beyond education. They provide weekly food relief for local families along with pro bono legal services and house repairs.
To learn more, visit their website.