School-aged children of color smile and high-five a line of adults outside.

Rainier Scholars Announces New Partnership With Tacoma Public Schools

by Ronnie Estoque

For the last 20 years, Rainier Scholars has partnered with various organizations, school districts, individual schools, and businesses to academically support underrepresented students in the greater Seattle area. Earlier this month, Rainier Scholars announced that they would be partnering with Tacoma Public Schools (TPS) to further the district’s mission of supporting more students, especially those from multigenerational African American families. Their first Tacoma cohort will be recruited in the beginning of fall of 2021, with programming launching in the summer of 2022.

“We have been very aware of how the families we hope to serve are being pushed further and further south, so we spent quite a bit of time exploring potential partnerships in the south sound area,” Sumiko Huff, director of strategic growth and program design at Rainier Scholars, said. Rapid development in the Seattle area has displaced many BIPOC students and families.

In 2019, Rainier Scholars met with Josh Garcia, deputy superintendent of TPS, who expressed his enthusiastic support for a partnership. TPS initiatives to decrease barriers for college access (opt-out advanced learning, universal PSAT/SAT testing, partnerships with a number of college access organizations) made the school district an exciting prospect for Rainier Scholars for developing a partnership.

Photo courtesy of Rainier Scholars.

“We’re looking to increase the numbers of choices students have for matriculation into selective college/university settings; we want to see students graduating with minimal debt, moving on to meaningful careers that they are passionate about, and holding positions of leadership in their communities,” Jennifer Ward, chief operating officer at Rainier Scholars Tacoma, said. “Our organization seeks to serve hard-working students of color who are underrepresented on college campuses and in leadership positions.”

Every year, Rainier Scholars reaches out to families of fourth graders in various public school systems who identify as People of Color and demonstrate that they are reading at or close to grade level. During the recruitment process, families are invited to attend informational meetings that are held both in-person and virtually. They aim to recruit students who are seeking a challenge academically and would like additional support towards an eventual college degree.

Photo: Jerry Davis

A program analysis from MGS Consulting compared Rainier Scholars to similarly situated peers (by race, income, language, neighborhood, etc.) and found that Rainier Scholars were 300% more likely to be taking college prep Honors/Advanced Learning courses than those not in the program. Compared to a national average of 67%, 99% of Rainier Scholars are achieving admission to four-year colleges and universities and 90% are graduating or on track to graduate in four years, as compared to 65% nationwide, amongst all students, regardless of race, income, or a degree in the home.  

“If public schools were resourced effectively and teachers had the tools at their disposal to implement anti-racist practices that really met the needs of all students, we would see children thriving across the entire system — and we wouldn’t see these gaps between children of color and their white counterparts or gaps between children with fewer means and those with more privilege,” Ward said. 

Rainier Scholars Tacoma is planning to hire two more positions in the next few months (program assistant and recruitment director) to prepare for their first cohort of students.

“It is important to have organizations like ours that are able to open doors for greater access and opportunity, while at the same time providing models of what is possible when education is properly funded,” Ward said.

Photo: Jerry Davis

To get connected to Rainier Scholars Tacoma, email or call Chief Operating Officer of Rainier Scholars Tacoma Jennifer Ward (

Editors’ Note: An earlier version of this article referred to Jennifer Ward’s title as “COO of Rainier Scholars.” The article was updated on 06/15/2021 to correct the error.

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: Jerry Davis

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