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Eighth-graders can start college funds, get extra help in REACH program
Both Gainesville, Hall systems start program to help families afford college
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Ten Hall County and Gainesville eighth-graders could be selected to receive college scholarships that could be $20,000 or more by the time they graduate — especially if the students might be the first in their families to attend college.

Both school districts are starting in REACH: Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen.

Both began in the spring. Both expect to name the first group of eighth-graders by the end of September.

REACH is a state program, part of the Complete College Georgia Initiative, and will provide $10,000 per student for the first year. In subsequent years, local school systems must raise $3,500 per student from private sources. The state will provide the additional $6,500.

They are among more than 40 school districts in the state participating in the scholarship program.

Gainesville city schools are beginning to review about 30 applications for its first group of REACH scholars. The deadline for applying was extended from Tuesday until Thursday afternoon.

The students selected will be announced at a school assembly Sept. 20 known as “statewide signing day.”

School officials and community representatives are expected to attend the assembly.

Hall County, which started the process in the spring, still is collecting nominations and applications. The district also expects to announce the selected students in late September at a school board meeting, said Terry Sapp, high schools school improvement specialist for Hall.

The program is modeled on a Florida idea, Take Stock in Children, that started more than 20 years ago.

Georgia’s program was started in 2012 and was in 41 school systems for the 2015-16 school year. The first graduates in the state from the program are expected in 2017.

Brad Bryant, vice president of REACH, said the organization has agreements with institutions in the University of Georgia System “to match dollar for dollar the REACH scholarship and several have agreed to double match.”

He also said, “For many of the institutions, the REACH scholar taps into a recruitment pipeline for academically promising low-income students.”

The REACH Georgia Foundation is operated by the Georgia Student Finance Commission, and money for the students selected will be held in the University System of Georgia Foundation until the student graduates from high school.

Bryant said the state legislature approved $2 million in fiscal year 2015 and 2016 and $2.75 million in 2017.

“These appropriations are directly invested in student scholarships and are used to match local communities’ investments. The goal is to establish a true state-local, public-private response to these students with demonstrated need,” Bryant said by email.

He added the some of the university system institutions have agreed to match the REACH Scholarship dollar-for-dollar, and several have agreed to double match.

“For many of the institutions, the REACH Scholar taps into a recruitment pipeline for our academically promising low-income students,” Bryant said.

“Research has shown that high expectations coupled with high levels of support produce more successful students, and this is what the REACH program is all about,” said Leigh Sears, Gainesville schools’ director of student engagement and intervention.

Part of the program is to provide additional education, social and financial support for the selected students through their high school years.

To be eligible, students must attend a school in a participating system and be selected by the system, qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, meet citizenship and residency requirements, demonstrate academic promise with respect to attendance, behavior and grades, and not have any crime or drug convictions.

Sears explained that mentors are ready for the first group of Gainesville students. She said the school district would welcome more people willing to be mentors. She suggested contacting the school system for more information.

Sapp, who heads the program for Hall County, said she has received applications from three schools as of about noon Friday. Neither school district has solicited donations for the second year of REACH because it is just starting.

“A REACH Georgia representative assigned to Hall County will be the ‘fundraiser’ making contact with organizations within Hall County who may be willing to support the program,” Sapp said.

She also said Centerpoint will provide the mentors for each REACH Scholar.

“We are still at least a month away from matching REACH Scholars to mentors,” she said.

“I will be working primarily with the eighth-graders who are selected for REACH to secure academic coaching in order to develop personalized college and career goals, secure additional academic support when needed, and secure additional social support as needed. This support will continue at the high school level,” Sears said.

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