Runs in the family: Carver student latest to get full scholarship

KANAE TAYLOR is the epitome of an overachiever.

At 17 years old, she has virtually straight A's, runs track, plays an instrument, volunteers and is active in several clubs.

The high school senior recently added another superlative: Gates Millennium Scholar.

Kanae, a student at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science, is one of eight students from the city chosen this year for the prestigious scholarship, which pays for high-achieving, low-income students to complete undergraduate and select graduate studies at the school of their choice.

"I was shocked. I didn't expect to get it," said Kanae, of East Mount Airy. "It's a slim chance, and so many people apply."

Amazingly, Kanae is not the first in her family to score the scholarship funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Her older brother, Khalil, won it in 2012, and is going into his senior year at Villanova as a double major in biology and psychology.

And her older sister, Kasia, was the recipient of another private scholarship that paid for her education at Mansfield University in upstate Pennsylvania.

Clearly, the family has brains and a knack for scoring a free education.

"They're doing so well in school, and I don't want to be the one that's the bad one, not doing well in school," said Kanae, who scored several other scholarships and grants.

A quiet, modest teen, Kanae graduated yesterday with a 3.89 grade point average and will attend Drexel University in the fall after being accepted to more than a dozen colleges and universities, but you would never know it from talking to her.

Her biggest promoter - and motivator - is her mom.

"I think I was more excited than her," Kanae's mom, Jacqui Johnson, said of her reaction to winning the Gates scholarship.

"I think she was excited inside. For me, it was just a [rush] of emotions. I guess, [being a] single mom . . . [I] struggled raising the three of them, and to not only have [the Gates scholarship] for her, but in 2012 when my son got it, it was like oh my God."

Johnson recalled almost stalking the letter carrier the weekend Kanae's scholarship letter arrived. As soon as he handed her the envelope, she knew it.

"When he came, I'm screaming 'Kanae, the mail is here,' and she came down and I'm outside screaming and jumping up and down and she's just like 'cheese,' " she said.

'Never be a statistic'

Despite her long list of honors and awards, which include National Honor Society and the Philadelphia Mayor's 2014 VIP Award, Kanae is a typical teen in many ways. She likes to watch TV - "any reality show, pretty much," she said - and her favorite class is gym.

At the same time, she is almost foreign to social media. She just recently created a Facebook page - it's overwhelming, she says - only joined Twitter for a class and doesn't do Instagram.

Part of it has to do with her hectic schedule - her roster includes several advanced placement courses, she trains for track five or six days a week with a private coach she's had since she was 4, and she volunteers as a peer tutor, among other things. And part of it is her mom, who set a high standard for all three of her children.

"Since I had my oldest daughter, I made a promise to myself and to my children that they would never be a statistic," said Johnson, who had her first child at 17 and three by the time she was 23. "They would have opportunities, and it wasn't going to be because people gave it to them. They were going to earn [them] and the only way you can do it is through education."

Johnson said her children were not allowed to bring home C's. She pushed them to excel, reminding them of deadlines, proofreading essays and driving them to events and activities all over the place, so they would make better choices than she did.

Kanae first went to Lotus Academy, a private school in Mount Airy, before transferring to Houston Elementary for third-grade to eighth-grade. She chose Engineering and Science, one of the city's top magnet schools, following in the footsteps of her siblings.

Ted Domers, the principal of Engineering and Science in North Philadelphia, said he marvels at how involved Kanae is.

"I think Kanae really stands out here because of how well-rounded she is," Domers said. "She's involved in more clubs than I realized and I think that's what distinguishes her."

The list includes the band, where she plays clarinet, the cross-country team and serving as a school ambassador.

According to her mom, Kanae was always bright, but just needed some pushing until she got to high school.

"When she got to high school and she kind of found her own niche, you didn't have to ride her anymore and press her," Johnson said. "She's always had a very inquisitive mind, but again . . . they're all kind of quiet, so sometimes she would say things or come up with stuff and you go, 'Wow, I didn't know you had it in you.'

"She started writing essays, and I said 'Kanae, did you write this? . . . This is awesome,' so I'm really anxious to see, as she comes out of her shell in college, what's really in there because I don't think we really know what her potential is yet. She's still blossoming."

Next chapter: Drexel

Kanae plans to study psychology at Drexel, where she can be close to home and stay in the city. She said she would like to work with children, although she's not sure in what capacity.

Between writing her senior paper and volunteering at the Philadelphia School District Re-Engagement Center, she came up with the idea of starting an elementary school for kids with mental and psychological disorders.

"I know poverty plays a big role in huge cities and the crime rate goes up because a lot of kids aren't getting an education, and it usually starts from when they're younger and they start dropping behind," she said.

"I volunteer at the Re-Engagement Center, and I realized that many kids that come through had problems when they were younger, but they didn't really start seeing it until they got to high school, and at that point, it's kind of too late. So, if I start a program when students are younger, then maybe I can try to [reduce] the dropout rate."

With her youngest heading off to college, the heavy lifting for Johnson is over, but she will still be an active "college mom."

"I'm very, very proud of her and her accomplishments," she said.

Kanae said she is looking forward to the next chapter, although you could never tell by the tone of her voice.

"[I want] to continue to just keep adding on to my resume," she said. "Whether it's helping people out, in sports, academics, I just want to keep getting awards and growing and learning."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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