The second class of Hall County REACH scholars may have appeared overwhelmed with a brimming conference room crowd looking on. The name plates and signing table set them apart, and shyly they smiled and nodded through the recognitions.
But these eighth-graders felt rightly proud about the opportunities presented to them at Monday night’s school board meeting, a commemorative affair with parents, mentors, teachers and administrators thanking the students for their hard-won success to this point.
Until high school graduation, these students will be supported by mentors and academic coaches to achieve their dreams of attending college and university.
Those who complete all the program requirements can earn up to a $10,000 scholarship.
Now the real journey begins.
“I feel nervous and happy,” said Jonathan Rodriguez, an East Hall Middle student and one of eight recipients in this year’s class.
When the REACH Georgia Scholarship program launched in 2012, Gov. Nathan Deal said it “rewards students for self-accountability, promotes parent involvement and provides motivation and support; all factors that we know are critical in student educational achievement.”
In a special video for this year’s class of recipients, Deal told the students that they had committed to success in and out of the classroom.
“Georgia is counting on you,” he added.
The students participated in a contract signing ceremony. The contract requires a 2.5 grade-point average, exceptional attendance and being drug-free.
In exchange, the students will receive career experience and guidance, take part in special field trips and have access to financial resources.
According to the program’s description, “The REACH Georgia Scholarship Program was designed with the middle band of students in mind: low-income kids who demonstrate true academic promise.”
According to the 2012 Georgia Budget & Policy Institute report, “More than 65 percent of poor Georgians ages 25 and older do not have any higher education, while 61 percent of Georgians not in poverty have taken some form of higher education.”
Today, REACH serves 103 school systems across Georgia and nearly 1,200 Scholars, committing over $17 million in scholarships.
“We believe in you,” Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield told the students.
Rodolpho Rodriguez, an East Hall Middle student, was nearly speechless when asked how he felt.
“I feel excited,” he said.
Diana Calderon, who attends the World Language Academy, had only one word to describe the experience.
“Lucky,” she said.
Other recipients include Rober Ortiz (South Hall Middle), Neftaly Aranda (East Hall Middle), Maria Vasquez (Chestatee Middle), Paulina Cruz (North Hall Middle) and Azalee Whitmire (South Hall Middle).