A’Kayla Williams ’18 was a middle school student at Team Academy, a KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter school, in Newark, New Jersey, when she first heard about the Wight Foundation, an organization that provides academic and financial assistance to students from the greater Newark area who are interested in attending boarding schools. No one in her family had ever gone to a boarding school, but for A’Kayla, “it was an option that I thought I could do.”
She was accepted into the program, completed its eleven-month academic preparatory course, and began exploring the many independent schools that are part of the Wight Foundation’s network. She applied to ten, touring nine, including Williston, which impressed both her and her mother. But ultimately, she says, financial aid would be the deciding factor. “Whatever school gave the most money would be the school I went to,” she says. “Williston gave the most.” The Wight Foundation also contributed with a grant.
As it turned out, Williston proved to be the ideal fit for A’Kayla. “I wouldn’t change anything from my four years here,” she says. “It’s a place that I can call home, and I’m really comfortable being here.” In particular, she says, she has enjoyed trying new activities and discovering that she had strengths she had not recognized before Williston. “I never thought I would see myself choreographing the dances I would do for the dance concert, or being a proctor for two years, or being an international student mentor, and being a part of the multicultural student union here,” she says. “It’s something Williston brought out in me.”
Perhaps even more significant, Williston has changed how she views herself in the world. “Coming from a community where mostly everybody looks like me to a boarding school here in Easthampton, I’m the minority, and it made me feel like this is what the real world is going to feel like,” she says. “It’s taught me how to engage with other people who don’t have the same perspectives I do.”
With graduation on the horizon, A’Kayla has set her sights on Spelman College in Atlanta. Her eventual goal: a career in medicine.