Five Dalton Middle School eighth grade students committed to be a Georgia REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen) Scholar at a ceremony on October 29. Jesus Guerrero, Emily Nunez, David Guzman, Esmeralda Alegria Chavez and Ana Perez make up the fourth class of DMS REACH Georgia 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 "Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen" 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.
Damaris Natola, school counselor at Dalton Middle School, said she enjoys getting to know the students better during the interview process.
"With the interview, it's really cool, because you really get to talk to the students," Natola said. "And they're really nervous, but you see their strengths kind of shine through in that moment."
When students are chosen to be REACH Scholars, they are partnered with an adult mentor who will stick with them for five years, until high school graduation. Natola said that, over the years, she has increasingly focused on helping to create sustainable mentor-mentee relationships.
"It's important for them to feel like they can open up to another adult," Natola said. "It's hard for kids to feel open to adults, and that their parents will feel comfortable with them talking to another adult. Since that's such a big piece of the program, we really thought about that on the front end this year."
Whitney Holloway is an eighth-grade teacher at Dalton Middle School who teaches three of the five REACH Scholars in her class this year. She also agreed to mentor one of the scholars, Emily Nunez.
"You can do so much in a classroom, but this is another way to help," Holloway said. "I'm really passionate about making sure that students know there are so many opportunities with their schooling. I've always been someone who likes to encourage my students to look at their options for scholarships and look at their college options anyways, so this is kind of up my alley."
Parents also play a huge part in their student's education and attended the ceremony to commit to being deeply involved through collaboration, activities, meetings and program events.
For many of these students and their families, becoming a REACH Scholar opens doors to future education that may have previously been unattainable.
Emily Nunez said she is very excited for this opportunity, and knows it is a big deal.
"I want to be a nurse but, before this, I was scared because I didn't want my parents to worry about paying for my school," Nunez said. "I just wanted them to feel free to let me go to school without having to worry."
For Jesus Guerrero, becoming a REACH Scholar is more motivation to study for classes, stay involved in school and try hard in everything. His advice to younger students hoping to become REACH Scholars one day: "Try hard in everything, and don't give up."