The first meeting of the United Minority Girls (UMG) program at Wakefield High School was in January of 2006, but the origins of the group started several years earlier. The genesis for UMG actually came out of the Cohort program for minority males at Wakefield. In the early years of Cohort, there weren’t enough Junior and Senior boys to fill a charter bus for the Fall Cohort College Trips. The Cohort leaders – Delores Bushong, Alfred Reid & Alan Beitler – would invite high-achieving minority Senior girls they knew to go along with the group and fill the buses.

They continued this practice for four years.

In the fall of 2005, Mr. Beitler applied for and was selected to be the new Minority Achievement Coordinator at Wakefield. One of the first things he mentioned to his supervisor, Cheryl Robinson, was wanting to start a new and different program for minority girls at Wakefield. Ms. Bushong & Mr. Beitler collaborated to begin this initiative and served as the program’s coordinators. It didn’t have a name at the time, and its initial reason to be created was because there were many young women who did very well in AP classes, but did not score as correspondingly high on SAT or ACT tests. At the time, that discrepancy was both intriguing and confusing.

As time went on, they learned more about the range of factors that impact student testing on such standardized exams.

The coordinators identified members of the new group by their grade point averages and if they were taking Intensified or Advanced Placement courses. From working with the boys group, they knew that four year colleges placed a very high value on the academic record of potential applicants.

From its beginning, the program was designed to help female students of color who had challenged themselves in their high school curriculum to become more aware of, and apply to, four-year colleges & universities.  

Their initial meetings included building relationships of trust with these female students, making sure they were continuing to take a strong course load for their senior year & providing them with summer opportunities that would strengthen their applications for college. In addition, the program provided a group of peers who were also going through the challenge of identifying & applying to colleges, an overnight Spring College Trip to four Virginia universities, help filling out FAFSA forms & understanding financial aid letters, encouragement to take the ACT & SAT tests more than once, and Senior Project guidance. On occasion, successful professional women of color would attend their weekly meetings to provide inspiration & encouragement.

It was their second group of students, the Class of 2008, who came up with the name United Minority Girls. For the first ten years, the coordinators took Wakefield UMG’ers to see colleges in the spring of their Junior years. For the first few years, they worked with admissions counselors at those schools & asked them to provide a panel of other young women of color to talk about their experience at those colleges. As the United Minority Girls program developed and more UMG alums were on those campuses themselves, it became possible to have former Wakefield UMG’ers talk to current Wakefield UMG’ers about their on-campus experiences.

This was a very significant development & provided a special connection & resource to the high school girls. 

United Minority Girls always had a ceremony at the end of each program’s year in late January to celebrate with the seniors. UMG members were asked to share something from the heart at that event about what being in UMG meant for them. Each graduating UMG senior was also given a rose that evening – the group’s symbol that has stayed with the program since the first graduating class in 2007. Those evening gatherings continued to be very special over the years, and often became quite moving.

The collective experience of bonding together as young women of color & supporting one another to believe in their individual personal & academic abilities was a common theme over the years.

In 2019, Ralph & Jan Johnson committed to being the annual benefactors for United Minority Girls. They had been the benefactors for the Cohort program throughout its history. Their generous support provides the yearly programming costs to go on the college trips (since 2016 the program now takes the girls on two trips – one in the spring and one in the fall), an outdoor challenge & team-building course, the costs of pizza for weekly meetings, scholarships to help pay for summer opportunities on college campuses, UMG t-shirts, graduation stoles, etc.

This commitment by the Johnsons has had many positive outcomes.

Delores Bushong retired at the end of the 2012 school year & the program welcomed Wendy Maitland as a new UMG Coordinator. Alan Beitler retired in July of 2019. Timothy Cotman was hired in his position & is also now a UMG Coordinator. As the years have gone by, it has been extraordinary to see how important a program like UMG has been for many first-generation, low-income, and even undocumented, young women.

The support, the connections & the experience of going through a significant year of a young woman’s high school career with other young women of color have all helped make UMG the program it is now.

In the spring of 2016, the program held a 10th Year Anniversary that brought together young women from across the UMG years. Spring 2021 will mark UMG’s 15th Anniversary at Wakefield. With over 500 UMG graduates, many of whom now have not only graduated college but also graduate school, that event will be a powerful reminder of the success, achievement & resilience of young women of color striving for personal and academic success.

Give towards the education & future of young, minority women.

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