REACH Scholars celebrate with Gov. Deal

From left, Joseph Hanley and Sarah Martin from East Jackson Comprehensive High School, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, and West Jackson Middle School students Alex Diaz, Manuelis Villalobos Chaparro and Ivan Altamirano

From left, Joseph Hanley and Sarah Martin from East Jackson Comprehensive High School, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, and West Jackson Middle School students Alex Diaz, Manuelis Villalobos Chaparro and Ivan Altamirano

The Jackson County School System was honored today to welcome Gov. Nathan Deal to recognize our first REACH Scholars!

Eighth-graders Ivan Altamirano, Alex Diaz, and Manuelis Villalobos Chaparro were selected from West Jackson Middle School; East Jackson County Comprehensive High School eighth-graders are Joseph Hanley and Sarah Martin.

Students and their parents/guardians participated in a signing ceremony, making the commitment to maintain a 2.5 or higher GPA; remain free of crime, drug or behavior issues; and meet with a volunteer mentor and an academic coach until they graduate from high school. The five students were among 11 nominated by their schools and interviewed by a panel of community leaders in August. (Click here to see the program from the event, including student biographies; see more photos online.)

Scholars who complete all program requirements receive up to $10,000 in scholarship funds — $2,500 a year for up to four years to be used at two- or four-year Georgia REACH-eligible institutions. In addition, continuing academic and social support is provided throughout the students’ attainment of the postsecondary degree or certificate, and Gov. Deal announced that those schools also match (or even double) the scholarships for the students.

Ivan, Alex, Manuelis, Joseph and Sarah will join REACH Scholars from across the state of Georgia, students who “demonstrate true academic promise but may not have the personal motivation, academic preparation or financial support they need to obtain a postsecondary degree, diploma or career certificate,” according to the REACH Georgia website.

The REACH Georgia Scholarship “rewards students for self-accountability, promotes parent involvement and provides motivation and support; all factors that we know are critical in student educational achievement,” Gov. Deal said when the program was launched. In a two-year pilot, REACH Georgia added five school systems, committed 35 students as REACH Scholars, and invested $350,000 to student scholarships.

REACH now serves 134 school systems across the state, with nearly 1,200 Scholars and more than $17 million committed in scholarship funds. REACH enrolled 31 new school systems and more than 600 new Scholars in the current school year and, in partnership with Georgia’s Department of Family and Children’s Services, plans to pilot an annual enrollment of foster youth. Program organizers say they hope to have all of Georgia’s 180 school systems participating by the 2020-21 school year, serving more than 3,000 Scholars.

Funding for the first year of the program in Jackson County comes from the REACH Georgia Foundation. Future funding will be sought in the community.

The day started with the EJCHS marching band, chorus, cheerleaders, BETA club and student council members greeting the governor and his staff, community leaders, faculty, staff and students to the celebration at the EJCHS auditorium. Chanda Palmer, EJCHS principal; Dr. Melissa Conway, WJMS principal; and Dr. April Howard, JCSS superintendent, welcomed the crowd and introduced the students and their families.

The Governor talked about the program’s origins and his hopes for its continued success, as well as the success of the students. He urged them to work to be proud of themselves as they move through their high school and postsecondary educational experiences and to choose the behaviors and make the decisions that will open door for their lives.

The signing ceremony  was followed by picture-taking and hand-shaking and a reception in the EJCHS media center. The governor met with members of the EJCHS student council for an informal question-and-answer session after the formalities, urging them to “pursue life” with a sense of adventure, to look for opportunities to serve without preconceptions of what they “should” do, and to show kindness to one another and those they encounter in their lives.