Five students from Dawson County Junior High School signed contracts as REACH scholars in a ceremony last week at the school in front of parents, school board members and local officials.
The program-Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen-is a state program administered by the Georgia Student Finance Authority that is part of the Complete College Georgia Initiative.
The program was launched by Gov. Nathan Deal and it begins in middle school. It is a needs-based effort that encourages students through mentorship and scholarship.
Eighth graders Charm Caswell, Isaiah Grindle, Skyler Kohler, Kassandra Ochoa Reyes and Elizabeth Garcia all signed commitment forms that say they will strive to maintain a 2.5 GPA, stay out of trouble and meet attendance requirements.
It is a five-year commitment.
"To be able to take a stand and say I commit to maintaining good attendance and good behavior and working hard to make sure that my grades stay up for five years, that is a huge step for a 13-year-old. We are very proud you for making that commitment today," said Director of Student Support Services Janice Darnell.
The students will have the opportunity to spend time with mentors at least twice a month and their academic coach once a month, one-on-one. They will also learn leadership and soft skills.
Students who are selected receive financial, academic and social support to ensure they finish high school and hopefully pursue a post-secondary education.
The program requires the school district's participation through the sponsorship of the scholarships.
"The REACH program is going to change generations and we are committed to it," said Superintendent Damon Gibbs. "There is a financial commitment from the system, as well as from the state. Our community and our school system is very committed to that. It is our goal to have 25 students in the program, K-12 in a couple of years."
If the student graduates high school while maintaining their commitment, they will have a $10,000 scholarship for HOPE eligible schools waiting for them. On top of that, many HOPE schools in Georgia will match the scholarship, with some even double matching it, according to Darnell.
A student who completes the commitment could end up with $30,000 toward their college education.
The ceremony on Sept. 20 was a part of a state-wide signing going on in multiple school districts and included a video message from Deal and messages from several speakers.
Darnell, Marcus Hilliard of the Georgia Student Finance Commission, State Representative Kevin Tanner and Gibbs all encouraged the students to realize this opportunity and the need to begin preparations for college now rather than during 11th and 12th grades.
"The jobs of tomorrow are going to require post-secondary education," said Tanner, who also read a commendation from Deal.
"It is projected that by the year 2020 more than 60 percent of the jobs in Georgia will require a post-secondary certificate or degree," the commendation read.
Since 2012, 330 students have participated in the program. For the 2016-17 school year, 370 new students from 69 school systems will become REACH Georgia scholars, according to the commendation.