Almost a decade ago, third graders at seven high-poverty schools in the Twin Cities got an offer: Stay in school, and we'll give you $10,000 for college. There was just one condition -- the students had to stay enrolled in either the Minneapolis or St. Paul school district.
The offer came from the Minneapolis Foundation, which wanted to fight the problem of transiency, and get more kids to graduate and go to college.
One year later, one-third of the kids were already gone. The remaining students had scattered to more than 50 different schools.
Tiara Bellaphant, who graduated from St. Paul Central High School this week, made it all the way. She explains what it was like to be part of the experiment.
I remember that day. I got picked to go on a field trip with my third-grade class. What I didn't know, was I was going to the kickoff of Destination 2010. We got official t-shirts and listened to some speakers in a huge auditorium, who told us that if we stayed in the program til the end, we'd have a scholarship to college.
I was excited! My first thought was: I'm rich! I was doing cartwheels and backflips. I thought I had it made.
Back then, the odds were against me. I attended Maxfield Elementary school. At the time, it was on academic probation. Only about 60 percent of students in St. Paul Public Schools were graduating from high school. And for me, being African American, the odds were even lower.
I never knew why my class was picked to be a part of Destination 2010. I recently heard Dr. Emmet Carson was the man behind this project. He was head of the Minneapolis Foundation at the time, so I called him to ask.
Dr. Carson told me that there was nothing special about my class: We just happened to be in a low-performing school in third grade at the time. It turns out, statistics show that you can predict whether or not a student will graduate by their third-grade test scores.
"And I felt that that was intolerable," said Carson. "So that we needed to show that that wasn't inevitable -- that there were things that we could do to affect that outcome."
So the program took us all in, and invested in our future, so more of us would graduate and go to college.
Some of us did well in school, and some of us had trouble. For me, school was easy. It was more fun than work.
Rickeisha Powell was one of the students who had a hard time. She was in my school when D2010 started. So I went to her house to ask her some questions. I asked her how school was for her.
"I just hated school so much. Like dang, I had senioritis since kindergarten," said Powell.
I asked her how she would be different without Destination 2010.
"I'd be a hot mess," she said. "I'd still be at Central, sleeping in class."
Rickeisha is still kind of a hot mess.
We both agree that D2010 kept her on track. I asked her what exactly motivated her.
"The scholarship, to be dead honest. That made me get motivated for school," Powell said. "Every time I wanted to quit it, my mom just reminded me, you don't have to worry about college. It's there for you, you just have to make it to it."
Actually, the scholarship will only cover a fraction of my college expenses, but it's important to me, too. My mom always wanted me to go to college, but we never knew how we would pay for it. She was a single parent raising three kids on a low income. We thought of the scholarship as a good start.
But in sixth grade, I almost dropped out of the program. To get the money, you have to attend school in St. Paul or Minneapolis. And my mom decided she wanted to move to Las Vegas to help my grandma. Thankfully, at the very last minute, she changed her mind.
Two-thirds of the students who started in Destination 2010 did drop out of the program over the years. I don't know what happened to most of them, but I'm still friends with Ashley Hollman.
I've known Ashley since I was young.
"I remember when I was at Maxfield, I couldn't even say Destination," said Ashley. "My mouth wouldn't say Destination. I was like .... 2010!"
Back then, I didn't even know what 2010 stood for. Ashley and I were apart for the first time when she moved out of the school district. She had behavioral issues and wanted to move. So her parents sent her Roseville Area Middle School.
"I didn't have any friends," she said about Roseville. "I made one friend. Honestly, I can't remember anybody."
Dr. Carson said that moving around makes it harder for students to do well in school. Ashley did well even though she moved. But for other friends of mine, changing schools made it harder on their academics.
Even though Ashley is heading off to college in the fall, she's upset that she's not as prepared as some Destination 2010 students.
"The problem is, I didn't really think about college until my senior year. You don't do that," said Hollman. "You should already be thinking about college. But it was never put in front of me. It was more like [I] stumbled across -- I should probably take my ACT now. I didn't take any kind of ACT prep course."
D2010 gave me the opportunity to take ACT prep courses, attend leadership camps, and go on out-of-state college tours.
A couple of weeks ago, I came home and found my mom putting together pictures for my graduation open house. I asked her how I would be different without Destination 2010.
She said I would have graduated regardless, but I probably would have taken a year off or have gone to a two-year school, instead of Tennessee State University.
"Yahoo! I think it's great," said my mom. "I think that being on the college tour you got to choose which college you thought would fit you, and because it was your first pick, I'm very happy for you."
I agree, it's the best for me. I will be attending the college of my choice and getting a chance to experience life outside of St. Paul. Looking back, my mom says Destination 2010 really got me thinking about college early.
"I would have probably talked to you about college, but not as young as third grade," said mom. "I probably would have waited until a later time, maybe ninth grade."
Destination 2010 did more than that. It has made me more outgoing, open-minded, and comfortable with myself. I've learned leadership skills and have met positive people with similar goals.
But that's not what Dr. Carson said the program was started for. So I called him back to ask if that's a success.
"Absolutely. I think everyone responds to opportunities based on where they are, but also the question is whether or not it moved you forward," said Carson. "I think that it made you more aware of the opportunities in front of you. If we just create a little bit of energy, those that were going will go further, and those that weren't going at all will get on the boat."
I do plan to go further. And sometimes I wonder what would happen if all third graders were offered $10,000, and help from a program along the way to college. I know some would drop out. But others might really use it. And some, like me, would just be able to dream bigger.