Eighth grade students sign up for REACH scholarships

Published 5:56 pm Friday, September 18, 2015

On Sept. 30, two Decatur County eighth graders will participate in a statewide signing day joining the REACH scholarship program, which will award them each a scholarship if they fulfill the program requirements.

“It ends up being a $10,000 scholarship for those two young people if they fulfill all of the requirements from the eighth grade until graduation,” Decatur County Superintendent Fred Rayfield said at the Board of Education work session Thursday. “The really neat part about it is that you’ll also see that there are several institutions throughout the state of Georgia that stepped up and said ‘if that student comes to our institution, we’re going to match that.’ So it can end up being a $20,000 or $30,000 scholarship before your college career for a student who does pretty well academically but might not have the right set of opportunities or circumstances that would take him down the road to a college career.”

The names of the scholarship recipients have yet to be released.

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To be eligible for the Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen, REACH, program a student must qualify for the Free or Reduced Price Lunch Program, meet citizenship and residency requirements, demonstrate academic promise, and the student must not have any crime or drug convictions. Eligible students were identified and asked to complete applications that required academic and community recommendations.

At the signing, the students will sign a contract committing to maintain a 2.5 GPA throughout middle and high school, remain drug and alcohol free, meet with their respective mentors, maintain good attendance and more.

“It’s more than just identifying students in the eighth grade,” federal programs director Kathy Varner said. “It’s a true support system all of the way up. Part of the program is that we have to assign to each scholar a mentor, and that mentor will begin working with them in the eighth grade and will remain with them until they graduate. We also identify an academic coach to stay with that student for five years and support them all the way up.”

Decatur County Board of Education members questioned what would happen if one of the students doesn’t fulfill all of the requirements.

“What if we get to the senior year — and there’s a good deal of wording in there about drug use and alcohol — and we get a senior infraction? They do everything they’re supposed to do, but they just miss that one step?” Rayfield said. “Well, they just forfeited their opportunity.”

During Decatur County’s first year of the program, it will be state-funded, but next year the system will be required to raise $1,500 of the $10,000 scholarship through donations and community support, Varner said.

Varner said that the program is exciting for those students participating because it helps beyond what HOPE can do and offers support to first-generation college students that they may not receive at home.

“This is one of the best things I’ve ever had to do. I guess the thing that is so exciting for me is that this is a game changer for these kids,” Varner said. “So many times some of our students will have the opportunity to have the HOPE Scholarship and go away to college, but if you’ve had a kid in college, you know that tuition is just one tiny bit of the amount of money that you have to pay.”