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St. Mary's Academy Blog

Did you know that The Challenge Foundation, a local non-profit organization with offices housed at St. Mary’s Academy, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year? St. Mary’s Academy was the first school to partner with Challenge, and today, Challenge is an integral part of the SMA community. The St. Mary’s Academy community has embraced having the Challenge Foundation on their campus, and has been so generous in providing office space for Challenge, a place to host our summer program every year, busses to run field trips, and so many other supports.

Many years ago, Don McFall started the Challenge Foundation with a vision to support smart, ambitious, and hard-working students to break the cycle of poverty through educational opportunities. Challenge scholars all come from high-need backgrounds, and all exhibit academic aptitude and motivation.

But, early on, it became evident that it takes more than a tuition scholarship to support students from high-need backgrounds. In response, Challenge employs a holistic approach, providing comprehensive supports including a mentor for every student, a summer program for students entering grades 6-9, academic support such as tutoring, books, computers and supplies, and co-curricular support such as sports equipment and music fees. The Challenge Foundation even provides ancillary family support such as rental and utility assistance, when necessary.

Support begins in sixth grade at a college preparatory school, and continues through college. The goal is not only to help scholars graduate from college, but to translate their rigorous education into success in their chosen career field. Over the past 20 years, Challenge has refined its approach to maximize scholar success, and with a philosophy that values being nimble, open to change, and learning from past experiences, Challenge has achieved a remarkable 87% college graduation rate. (The national college graduation rate for students from low-income populations is 24%. © 2016 National Student Clearinghouse)

Today, Challenge supports 63 students in grades 6-12 with over half of these scholars enrolled at St. Mary’s Academy. Scholars also attend Colorado Academy, Kent Denver School, and St. Anne’s Episcopal School. Application and admission into Challenge is rigorous and competitive. Each year, Challenge accepts 8-10 scholars from an applicant pool of over 200 candidates. Scholars go through an 18-month admission process and are selected for their academic ability, internal drive, and demonstrated “grit” to persevere through challenging academic environments.

Scholars’ motivation and tenacity serve them well in college. Today, 37 Challenge scholars are enrolled at colleges across the country including: Boston University, Brown University, Colorado College, CSU, Notre Dame University, Santa Clara University, and Wesleyan University, to name a few. College grads are pursuing careers in areas such as physical therapy, hotel management, law, business, social work, nursing, engineering, and medicine.

Through their journey with The Challenge Foundation, scholars become change agents for their families and communities. Scholars are not only impacting their own lives, they are providing a new future for those around them by serving as examples of what is possible through education, a dream, and lots of hard work.


The Challenge Foundation is always looking for community members to volunteer as mentors. If you are interested in learning more about mentoring or about The Challenge Foundation in general, please visit their website: thechallengefoundation.org, or contact them directly at (303)209-3364 to learn more about getting involved.