Three Cartersville Middle School eighth-graders have had a huge weight lifted off their families’ shoulders.
Anysia Boozer, Nuren Lara and Hope Short became the second group of Cartersville students to be named REACH Scholars when they signed scholarship contracts on the statewide REACH Signing Day Wednesday in the school media center.
The scholarships, valued at up to $30,000, will pay for their college educations as long as they continue to make good grades, have good attendance and stay out of trouble.
Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen (REACH), one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s key programs in his Complete College Georgia Initiative, is a needs-based scholarship program designed to encourage students, beginning in middle school, to continue their educational pursuits beyond high school, according to Cartersville Schools Foundation President Lisa Bell, who works with the Georgia Student Finance Authority (GSFA) to provide scholarships for the program.
“Students are provided with the academic, social and financial support that’s needed to graduate from high school, access college, achieve post-secondary success and be prepared for the 21st century workforce,” she said.
REACH was modeled after the foundation’s GateKey program, which also provides needs-based scholarships to deserving students in sixth through 11th grades who wouldn’t be able to attend college otherwise, Bell said.
She and Superintendent Dr. Howard Hinesley talked to members of Deal’s staff in early 2011 “about what we were doing with our [GateKey] program and the success that we were having and how [GateKey] had been developed from something that was very successful in Florida,” she said.
“His staff just jumped all over that and said, ‘This is the perfect time for us to roll out some type of a statewide, needs-based scholarship program,’ and that’s kind of how REACH came to be,” she said. “So we’re really excited that we kind of got to be a little bit of an integral part in getting something going statewide.”
Deal launched the program Feb. 6, 2012, at a press conference at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where GateKey Scholar Daphanie Johnson spoke about her experience with the program, Bell added.
T.J. Reed, a senior GateKey Scholar who received his scholarship in sixth grade, spoke to the new REACH Scholars about what to expect as the recipient of a needs-based scholarship.
“Honestly, my life hasn’t been the same,” he said. “I feel like once you have something that gives you hope, it keeps pushing you forward in school. It’s gonna get hard ... but with this kind of support, you have a support system. You’re signing a support contract, basically. These people are in your life. They’re not going to leave you, even when you graduate.”
He also called the scholarship opportunity “magical.”
“It’s like Disney World, except with a piece of paper,” he said.
Assistant Superintendent Ken Clouse — standing in for Hinesley, who was attending a funeral — told the students they were signing an agreement that gave them a “contractual support system” that would do everything it could to help them be successful.
He also highlighted the requirements they must meet in order to remain a REACH Scholar: keep a 2.5 GPA or a C average in all core courses; have good attendance; have good behavior and remain drug- and crime-free; meet with their assigned mentor at least twice a month and their assigned academic coach at least once a month; attend REACH events; engage in activities to prepare for college and graduate from high school. They also must enroll in a Georgia HOPE-eligible, post-secondary institution and maintain a 2.0 GPA and make satisfactory academic progress to keep the scholarship in college.
Clouse charged the students and parents to commit to meeting all the requirements set forth in their contract, and after agreeing they would, they added their signatures.
CMS Principal Jeff Hogan called the students “the cream of the crop of the eighth grade.”
“Students, the rest is out there in front of you,” he said. “All of you are up here for a reason, and we all believe that you’re going to take this opportunity and run with it and be very, very successful.”
Bell said this group of students is going to “absolutely amaze everybody” with how well they do by the time they graduate from high school.
“They are such high achievers,” she said. “They all have the drive and the motivation to do absolutely anything that they want to do. We’re really looking forward to working with them.”
Anysia, 14, said it was “great” to be chosen as a REACH Scholar.
“A lot of opportunities opened up, and it just feels good to know that I have a future and a support system behind me to fulfill my future,” she said.
The daughter of Tamika Williams and Leonard Omondi said she might attend the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech and is thinking about a possible career as a veterinarian.
Nuren, son of Luis and Sahar Lara, said receiving a REACH scholarship is “overwhelming.”
“It’s great, opened a lot of opportunities,” he said. “I’m sure about my future now. That helps. An all-around great day.”
The 13-year-old said he hopes to study biomedical engineering and attend either Georgia Tech or Georgia Southern University.
The daughter of Tony and Kristi Short, Hope said she is “very thankful, and I’m proud that I got to be a REACH Scholar.”
Hope, 14, said she would like to attend UGA or Georgia Tech and major in early childhood development.
Besides being REACH Scholars, Anysia is already a GateKey Scholar, and Nuren and Hope will join those ranks in the spring, Bell said.
To be eligible for REACH, students must attend a school in one of the 41 participating school systems; qualify for the Free or Reduced Price Lunch Program; meet citizenship and residency requirements; meet grade, attendance and behavior requirements; and not have any crime and/or drug convictions.
Bell said 100 percent of all proceeds raised goes into the scholarship program, which is administered by GSFA.
The foundation and GSFA each contribute funds to come up with the $10,000 scholarship awarded to each REACH Scholar, she said. The amount the school systems must provide is based on the relative wealth of their county and is divided into four tiers ranging from $1,500 to $5,000 per student.
“The University System [of Georgia] then has said, ‘We’ll match that,’ so that turns that into a $20,000 opportunity for the students,” she said.
And because colleges “can get a little competitive,” Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia Southern, UGA and Mercer University have agreed to match the USG’s match, “so that turns it into a potential $30,000 scholarship,” she said.