Pioneer Scholars

Serving students in grades 1-8

Pioneer Scholars ensures that our elementary and middle school students are building academic skills, achieving in school, and laying the foundation for future college success.

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Pioneer Scholars is a free, academic enrichment program serving academically-focused elementary and middle school students in Durham County who aspire to attend college after high school. The goal of the program is to establish a strong foundation of academic and leadership skills so that students enter high school ready to excel in a rigorous college preparatory curriculum that will put them on the path to admission at select colleges and universities.

Program benefits include:

  • Small group instruction and skill building
  • Academic benchmarking to assess college readiness
  • Cultural, arts, and social enrichment activities
  • Character and leadership skill building
  • Career exploration for middle school students
  • Parent and family engagement and support
  • Summer enrichment programs

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students currently enrolled
70 %
of elementary school students are considered "high growth" in math
80 %
of Pioneer Scholars students said the program helps them be a better student

Meet The Pioneer Scholars Team

Patrice High

Director of Elementary and Middle School Readiness
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Patrice joined the Emily K Center full-time in 2024 after working part-time as a Pioneer Scholars Lead Tutor from 2015-2017. She earned her undergraduate degree in African and Afro-American Studies from UNC and her MS in Higher Education with a concentration in Student Affairs from Kaplan University. 

Favorite school supply: Papermate Flair Pens
Favorite College Courses: Blacks in Film, Black Press & U.S. History

Pamela Gonzalez

Elementary and Middle School Program Manager
919-680-0308 x 212

Pam joined the Emily K Center full time in September 2022. However, “Though I am new to the Pioneer Scholars program, I am not new to the Emily K Center. I am a proud alumni and graduate of the Scholars to College Class of 2016 cohort,” she says. Pam earned her B.A. in Psychology from Meredith College.

Favorite book: A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams
Favorite college course: Sociology of the Border

Volunteer With Pioneer Scholars

Working under the supervision of programming staff and Lead Tutors, volunteer tutors provide direct academic and enrichment support to the students in their assigned group. In order to serve as a volunteer tutor, you must be at least 18 years of age, successfully complete a background check, and have a high level of proficiency in literacy, math, and/or STEM-related skills.

If you are interested in volunteering in a non-academic capacity, please contact us at

Apply Now To Be A Volunteer Tutor
Student Spotlight

Meet Dylan, Grade 3

Dylan is a third grade student who has been enrolled in Pioneer Scholars since the second grade. When at the Center, Dylan is always quick to share a smile, and his Lead Tutors describe him as extremely creative, caring, and thoughtful. Dylan’s favorite subject is math, and he also really enjoys a new spelling game called Sparkle. Outside of academics, Dylan has pet birds and has enjoyed the chance to show off his favorite feathered friends to his fellow scholars during virtual programming. We’re so lucky to have Dylan in the Emily K Center family.