While we applaud these high achievers, we also know that there are other students who need additional resources to even have hopes of graduating from high school, not to mention college.
These students need our attention, mentorship and encouragement.
That’s precisely why in 2012 I introduced a program — REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen) — which is designed to identify low-income middle school students who have academic promise and pair them with a mentor and an academic coach to support them from middle school through college. The REACH program encourages students to meet academic, attendance and behavior goals, and upon completion of high school, students are awarded a $10,000 scholarship to use at any HOPE eligible Georgia college. This program, a key component of our Complete College Georgia initiative, recognizes that we must identify these students early — much earlier than their junior or senior years of high school — and provide resources to help them academically, socially and financially.
In June, Sandra and I hosted a reception for more than 100 individuals from the corporate, foundation and education communities to create awareness about this valuable program. Laura Vinson, a 14-year old from Rabun County, attended along with her family.
She spoke to our guests about her experience as a REACH Scholar.
“Growing up with only one parent most of my life has been difficult,” Laura said in a slightly cracking voice. “Now, I have been given the opportunity to pursue my dreams,” she added. Laura reminded guests that there are thousands of other Georgia students who have the same desire to attend college and deserve the same opportunity. “It [REACH] can truly change their lives, just like it did mine,” Laura said.
Matt Arthur, superintendent of Rabun County Schools where Laura attends middle school, also shared with our guests his experience as a REACH school system. He said that REACH places responsibility for success on the child, but it also places that responsibility on the parents, the school and the community. Arthur noted that it is about surrounding the student with a winning team, something he fully understands having been a member of the 1980 University of Georgia National Championship Football Team.
“REACH is instrumental in building Rabun County’s and Georgia’s next workforce. We’re looking for our next leaders in Rabun County and Georgia to come from these REACH Scholars,” Arthur said.
REACH Georgia was modeled after a program, GateKey Scholarship Program, introduced to Georgia by Dr. Howard Hinesley, current superintendent of Cartersville City Schools, who created a similar program, Take Stock in Children, when he was a superintendent in Florida. Both programs have proven successful in preparing students to attend and complete college.
I launched REACH Georgia in three school systems: Rabun, Douglas and Dodge. AT&T provided a $250,000 seed contribution.
Two additional school systems are participating this year: Quitman and Bulloch. AT&T presented us with another $100,000 contribution at the June reception and the Georgia Power Foundation donated $150,000. Over the past year, many corporate and foundation dollars have been raised to support this program.
With 100 percent of the private dollars raised funding student scholarships, donors understand that their funds are impacting students and making a difference in Georgia. As Laura Vinson stated, REACH can truly change lives. In the years ahead, my personal vision is for all REACH Scholars to become high school valedictorians and successfully complete college.
I hope that you will join us in supporting REACH. Our students and our state’s economy will benefit for years to come. For more information, please visit our website REACHGa.com.
Nathan Deal is the governor of Georgia.