In a ceremony on November 15, 2022, a new class of eighth grade students committed to the Georgia REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen) Scholars program. Gabriel Cuello, Caleb Guzman, Mia Hurtado, Paulina Miguel-Martin, Andrea Najera, and Isabel Perez make up the district’s seventh class of REACH Scholars.
Governor Nathan Deal launched the REACH Scholarship Program in 2012 as part of the Complete College Georgia Initiative. The mission of the REACH Program is to increase the academic persistence and achievement of Georgia's most academically promising middle and high school students.
Scholars who successfully complete the REACH program and graduate from high school are awarded a $10,000 scholarship ($2,500/year) that can be used at any HOPE-eligible institution in Georgia. A majority of Georgia colleges are matching or double matching this scholarship. The scholarship is in addition to any other grant or scholarship the student receives. To remain eligible for the program throughout middle and high school, students must maintain a high GPA, remain drug and alcohol free, have good attendance and behavior, and create educational and career plans.
Students are nominated during their seventh-grade year. Students then complete their applications, provide external references and parental commitments, and must finally go through an interview process before final selections are made.
Mia Hurtado credits her seventh-grade language arts teacher with helping her achieve REACH Scholar status.
“A huge part was our English/language arts teacher last year, Mrs. Yebel Garcia,” Hurtado said. “She nominated us, walked us through the whole process, and was the first person to tell us if we made it or didn’t make it. She was a huge help in the process.”
Paulina Miguel-Martin said she didn’t think she would be named a REACH Scholar, and it was a big surprise when she found out that she won this scholarship.
“I was shocked,” Miguel-Martin said. “They told us we’d hear back over the summer, but we never got any information. So, I just assumed that I didn’t get it. But then they called us last month, and when I heard I wanted to jump up and down, but I tried to stay professional. I was so excited and happy.”
Brandi Moore, director of school support at Dalton Public Schools, said that the REACH Scholars signing ceremony was one of the best days of her career.
“The atmosphere was full of pride, excitement, and joy,” Moore said. “The scholars were smiling from ear to ear and they received many hugs and congratulatory sentiments from their parents, teachers, counselors and administrators. It was a big day, after all, these scholars were receiving a $10,000 scholarship for college. This occasion was a reminder of what we set out to do as educators, which is making a difference and helping students realize their potential.”
Moore also emphasized that the event would not be possible without the support of many individuals from staff members to community members and beyond.
“I would like to thank every person that made this day possible, including our teachers, administrators and counselors from Hammond Creek and Dalton Junior High School,” Moore said. “I would also like to thank the interview panel that was composed of community members as well as various DPS staff members as they had the difficult task of choosing our winners. Last but not least, I would like to thank our community sponsor, Harrison Stafford from Georgia United Credit Union, and Senator Chuck Payne, and Dalton Education Board Member Jody McClurg for their support.”
One of those community sponsors, Harrison Stafford from Georgia United Credit Union, said the Dalton REACH Scholar ceremony stands out among many others he’s attended.
Prior to the beginning of the event, each student sets up a table display that shows their awards, achievements and personal interests. Stafford mentioned this personalized element as an incredibly positive addition to the signing ceremony event.
“It’s fantastic,” Stafford said. “All of the schools do a phenomenal job, but this one really stood out to me. Each student has their own personalized section. Seeing physical, tangible things on each desk and getting to speak with them before the event, it’s really nice and it’s something the students will never forget.”