KPS graduate ‘crushed’ after she was denied Kalamazoo Promise

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Zaviona Woodruff visited Oakland University in Rochester Hills last week and “fell in love,” she said. She first wanted to study criminal justice but then switched to mechanical engineering. She took an aviation tech class while at Loy Norrix High School and learned the different parts of an airplane. Now her dream is to fix them.

“I’ve worked so hard,” Zaviona, 18, said during an interview at her home. “I graduated with high honors. I spoke at graduation. I tried to do as much as I could to make myself look like a great student.”

She earned a 3.57 GPA and was an all-star on the bowling team. However, one week before graduation she learned that her dreams of going to college were in jeopardy.

“My whole life, I’m like, okay, I get the Promise, I’m good,” Zaviona said. “[To] just have that chair ripped from under me, like last second, [in] May, last second, it’s just really really hard.”

Zaviona cried. She said she didn’t receive the Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship guaranteed to any city student who remains in the Kalamazoo Public School system from kindergarten through 12th grade, because she didn’t live in the KPS district. Prior to 2016, she did. However that year she and her family became homeless.

“We were in a shelter for a good three, maybe six months,” she said. “We were all in the same room: three girls and a dad.’”

Her father Cecil moved them to an apartment at a housing complex on Gull Road. He said, before moving in, he asked management if the place was in Kalamazoo. They replied,  "yes" and that a KPS bus would pick the girls up everyday for school. However he later learned from Comstock Schools that KPS provided the service because they were displaced. They told him he actually lived in Comstock Township, across the street from the KPS district line.

“I had to fill out forms to request that they be allowed to go to the Kalamazoo Schools,” he said. “With that, I had to transport them myself. For the last year and half, I drove them back and forth every day for the Kalamazoo Promise.”

Zaviona continued to excel at Loy Norrix, starring in Little Shop of Horrors and joining the swim team. When she was told she wouldn’t receive the Promise, she immediately appealed.

“My dad is a single parent,” she remembered explaining to them in a letter to the appeals committee. “He doesn’t have a steady job all the time. And he’s trying to do things to make ends meet to even just keep a house, a roof over our head, food on the table.”

Her teachers backed her, she said. The current librarian wrote a letter to the committee and got some of her former teachers, from elementary school and middle school, to sign it. Zaviona never read the letter, but was grateful they wrote one.

"'You’ve made the promise for students like her,'" she remembered them saying. "There’s going to be those students that play out in the hallway, graduate with a 2.5 [GPA], and don’t even go to college, but they qualify for that lump sum of money for the next 10 years."

Kalamazoo Promise Executive Director Bob Jorth said the committee looks at each appeal case by case. The committee is made up of community members who look at the whole situation presented to them, and then they make a decision. In May, Zaviona was denied the scholarship.

“They work really really hard to find a way to give the awards,” Jorth said during a phone interview. “We also try to help students who aren’t successful with the appeal understand there are other options for financing their education, you know, help them identify other scholarship opportunities.”

Zaviona said she’s since taken on two jobs with the intention that she’ll be heading to OU in a few weeks. However she still crushed and still hopes for the best.

“I thought that for my whole life I thought that I was getting this money,” she said. “Now I’m not.”

***If you'd like to make a donation to Zaviona's GoFundMe page, click here.***

UPDATE: Thursday, Oakland University and the community stepped up to help Woodruff. Read that here.

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43 comments

  • Michael

    The promise is meant to help the people who live in Kalamazoo in an effort to make Kalamazoo better. It is NOT just free money meant to be given to anybody willing to get a ride into Kalamazoo for school.

      • Michael

        Pete I did read the story. My guess is that, although you tried to read it, you have a comprehension problem.

        Sure they fell on hard times and became homeless. That’s not the part I have a problem with. AFTER that they moved into a place OUTSIDE of Kalamazoo for a year and a half. The father even filled out school of choice paperwork to have his daughter continue going to Kalamazoo despite living outside of the district. If he took the apartment managers word over the schools that’s his stupidity.

        The scholarship terms are clear and she didn’t meet them. I didn’t meet them either. The difference is I didn’t cry to the news that someone won’t give me free money that I didn’t earn.

        • Meri

          If you read it, then you’d read the part where before the father moved in there he was told it was still in the district and only after was told he was misinformed. If you are homeless you don’t exactly have many options especially after making a move like that.

          • Michael

            How hard is it to call the school and ask? Who takes an apartment managers word for it when it comes to your child’s education? Furthermore at the point of her junior year she was old enough to help inquire as well.

            When they found out did they move back in or continue living outside for a year and a half? They decided to stay outside the city and complete the school of choice paperwork acknowledging they knew they weren’t in the city.

            If I were on the appeals board moving back would have made all the difference in the world.

    • A Darling

      What part of your cold, cold heart didn’t understand that her parents became HOMELESS and were told they were still living in Kazoo? She went to Kazoo schools the entire time and lived all but those last two years in Kalamazoo proper. God help your kids if a catastrophe ever strikes them and people are as stony as you sir.

      • Sillyoldme

        The promise has rules that are strictly followed. They moved out of the district. Paying for college for this individual would thereby set a precedence allowing anyone and everyone to move in and out if the city and expect college to be paid for.
        Sorry, the guidelines are easily understood. It would seem that everyone wants a free ride. Life is not like that. Why isn’t Grand Rapids paying for my education?
        It’s quite simple really, life is not a free pass.

    • WhatHaveWeBecome

      She worked hard and was in the district for over 10 years. She lived literally feet away from the district line for a little over 1 year, and you think she deserves to have her college career taken away from her for that? There are rules, and then there is just common sense and human decency.

      Why are so many people missing the latter? Are you ok selling away your humanity to enforce such a trivial matter of a mere few feet difference? What is wrong with you?

      • We are not who we are.

        See, some people say ‘I suffered so you don’t have to’ and others say ‘I suffered, so you damn well better suffer too!’ You can’t teach people (especially willfully ignorant ones) that you are supposed to actually care about other people. People like this charming one care more about ‘you better effing suffer!’ than they do about the circumstances of the ones suffering. Bet he sleeps self-righteously sound at night.

    • Lewis

      She definitely deserves it, her parents went above and beyond the call of duty while going through a horrible ordeal all while she maintained academic success! She deserves more than a scholarship! I think Michael has a hard time seeing through his Russian endorsed white privilege if you know what i mean. Oh and I while I totally agree that if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything g at all I can’t help and agree with Kal.

  • Jeffrey Burley

    I don’t even live in Michigan but this sure sounds like a raw deal. The family ran into a bad situation. But, sounds like the father did everything he could do to make his daughter’s dreams come true. I think this board of appeals only looked at the rules and marked off where there was a shortfall in this case instead of looking at the family, the desire and attempts that were made to stay within the rules. If Kalamazoo is that money-strapped where they cannot find the positives instead of the negatives in each case, then stop the program.

    • lsm

      The Promise works very hard to provide funds to all eligible students. If a student moves out of the district temporarily, because of issues such as custody cases, foster care, and, yes, homelessness, but moves back into the district, they often provide scholarship funds. There are only two rules. Unfortunately, the family ignored the clearly stated eligibility requirements.

      • Christina

        The family “ignored” the rules? The father asked the apartment manager, and they told him that it was in the K-zoo district. And for all of you judgmental people who say that they could have just moved, did you not think that the father probably signed a lease! They were homeless up until then. Their choices were limited. They didn’t “ignore” the rules.

    • Sillyoldme

      I need help as well. What a joke this is.

      Will somebody pay for my education. I’m a single lady who needs help. Guess what, I work to pay my bills. I don’t expect someone else to pay my bills.

    • Michael

      I’ve held a job from 16 on. I worked full time hours my senior year as I was 18. I continued working through college. When I graduated college I had ZERO debt. I now make 90,000 a year. While I’m not rich I live a very comfortable life in my two income household.

      This girl is amazing. She didn’t follow the rules to get a FREE education and because of that she now wants us to pay for it for her? I’m glad she’s no longer wanting to pursue criminal justice. It’s clearly not the profession for her.

      • AVA

        How do you think you were able to get that “two person income home” lifestyle you talk about Micheal? I bet your parents never fell on hard times or became homeless. you were able to focus on your studies without having to worry about where your next meal came from. Just because you are focusing on her seemingly wanting a handout doesn’t mean you are correct. A scholarship is awarded to a student who has excellent grades and an excellent academic history. It is not a handout. How dare you sit behind your computer and judge this young lady. And furthermore, when you are HOMELESS living in a shelter and have an opportunity to move you don’t get to choose where! It’s obvious you have not idea because you exude and reek of white privileged. You think it’s just that easy to move around to places of your choosing.

      • We are not who we are.

        Have you LOOKED at the pay for jobs available to a HS senior and/or college freshman? And, have you LOOKED at the astronomical cost of college? Things aren’t anywhere NEAR the way they were when you ‘worked your way through’. Not to belittle your efforts, good for you that you worked hard, but is NOT POSSIBLE in these times. Folks remain willfully ignorant and cling to an utterly false idea, and that garbage propagates itself.

        • Michael

          I was raised in a single parent Home. I didn’t graduate that long ago therefore prices haven’t changed all that much. I worked at fast food restaurants in high school and a minimum wage job (with weekly OT- sometimes as many as 20 hours of OT a week). Those jobs are surely still available no?

          College is expensive I understand. While I agree she will be unlikely to come out of college debt free not getting the promise scholarship doesn’t prevent her from going. I’m sure there’s plenty of scholarships she will qualify for to help out- just not this one.

  • C

    Unfortunate, for sure. But, rules are rules, and when an exception is made for one, others will follow for a different reason. Pretty soon, there will be so many similar situations that the rules become meaningless.

  • Jim

    Shouldn’t she be eligible for other scholarships with that decent of a GPA + the extracurricular activities? Yeah it’s a raw deal, but she should have other options with that much hard work, especially with the referrals her teachers seem willing to give.

  • Dale Patterson

    Obviously this is a special case. She and her family bent over backwards to meet KPS requirements, her GPA shows effort, and she and our community would certainly benefit. She should receive the scholarship that she and her family worked so hard for and KPS should reassess it’s very strict requirements.

    • lsm

      These are not “KPS” rules. They are Kalamazoo Promise rules. The school district does not administer the scholarship.

    • C

      BS. She ‘s not being penalized in any way other than the fact that the adults around her screwed up. The fact that she’s poor is of no consequence to anyone other than a bleeding heart liberal.

      • Level 34

        I would just love to see the responses if her picture looked different. I lived in that community and it was the most racially uncomfortable place I’ve ever lived. I feel bad for this young lady period. What’s wrong with just stating that instead of acting as a city prosecutor…

  • lsm

    The Kalamazoo Promise has only two requirements: that you graduate and that you live within the school district. There are just two rules to follow. A quote from the story “They told him he actually lived in Comstock Township, across the street from the KPS district line.” In addition, every student who attends KPS but lives outside the district boundaries receives an annual letter telling them they are not eligible for the Promise because they do not meet the residency requirements. Fox 17 should be more diligent in explaining the facts of the situation.
    She is not being punished for being poor. She is not being punished because her family was homeless. She did not live within the school district. The Promise makes many exceptions for students who temporarily suspends residence (for example, they move out of state briefly because of a custody issue or perhaps they are placed in foster care) but moves back into the district. There is no question that Zavionna is a bright and accomplished young woman. This may make things more challenging, but if she is committed to her education, she can certainly achieve her goals.

  • ce

    My understanding is that she would get a percentage of the scholarship for the years she DID live in Kalamazoo. My other issue with this is the GOFundMe page – did you read it? If this is college-level writing and grammar, she’s going to need help! I think most GFM pages are a scam anyway. Has she reached out to any scholarship programs at this point? I’d need to see some better writing skills before I donate to sending her off to a university.

  • Ren

    There are a ton of scholarships available for low-income families and I believe if you have been homeless/foster care/receiving assistance, you can get a full ride from the government. Her dream is not over, but she might have to put in some effort to receive other scholarships. She also should have been well aware that she no longer qualified by this point in the year. The bill is now coming due for the 1st semester and they are looking for someone to pay it.

  • Lise

    This is a no brainer. The girl deserves to have the scholarship. It is not fair to her because her family fell on hard times. This goes to show another way people are deny people an education.