Eighth graders sign contracts for big-time scholarships

Published 8:54 pm Friday, October 2, 2015

Leigha Sapp, left center, and Yugi Cotton, right center, sign their scholarship agreements with family members.

Leigha Sapp, left center, and Yugi Cotton, right center, sign their scholarship agreements with family members.

Wednesday morning, in a room overlooking the Bainbridge High School gym, two Decatur County eighth graders and their parents signed contracts stating the kids would not only graduate from high school, but do so with good grades and without disciplinary problems — and then they would then go to a Georgia HOPE-eligible college.

The Bainbridge Middle School students, Leigha Sapp and Yugi Cotton, are Decatur County’s first REACH Scholars. If they keep up their end of the contract, they will each receive a $10,000 contract, and depending on where they go to college, may see up to $30,000 after the institutions match and add to the scholarships.

The signing ceremony featured several speakers including Decatur County Superintendent Dr. Fred Rayfield, Federal Programs Director Kathy Varner, Bainbridge State College President Dr. Richard Carvajal and Angie Wilson from the Georgia Student Finance Commission representing Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

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“The scholars today who will sign contracts have demonstrated dedication to their educational achievement, and I encourage them to continue working hard so that they can find success in college and become a part of Georgia’s top-ranked workforce,” Wilson said on behalf of Deal.

The students were quiet throughout the ceremony, stopping to take the time to read the agreement one last time before signing with their parents. Yugi Cotton said that he’s excited for the “bright future” he’ll have if he sticks with the program.

“This is a huge, huge opportunity,” Yugi’s father Norman Cotton said. “I want him to get as far as education can push him. I want him at NASA. I want him to see the world.”

“Leigha is a gifted child from God. I think she’s so smart and intelligent. She not only cares for herself, but she cares for her family and community, and I see her every day continuing to grow into a more mature, responsible young woman,” Leigha’s grandmother Althea said.

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. A committee of community members selected the scholarship recipients. Alesia Brinson, Missy Rollins, Emily Yent, Dr. Dean Burke and Loretta Harrell made up the selection committee.

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.