By Bree Collar, Sentinel Staff Writer
Seven months from now, five Fannin County High School seniors will make history, leaving a legacy as the first graduating class of Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen (REACH) scholars.
Joey Long, Tasia Galloway, Harley Cox, Chastity Seabolt and Alexis Ware have had opportunities to excel the past five years, developing personal and career goals with mentors and visiting colleges to see where their futures may lead.
“This is such a great program because I didn’t think I was gonna go to college but I got this scholarships and now I can and it’s fantastic,” Cox said.
They all agreed while developing goals for their future, the REACH program has helped them see a bigger picture of the world, working with local nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, visiting the Capitol and meeting the Governor and Speaker of the House.
Over the years REACH scholars have also had the chance to broaden their perspective of the future, meeting with mentors regularly and gleaning from their world experiences.
While these scholars are the inaugural students for the Fannin County School System in REACH, the first group of community members committing to mentoring them included Tonya Nuelle, Vickie Dillard, John Turner, Jane Whaley and Chris Martinez.
The scholars said the mentors life experiences, motherly guidance and care have been some of many bonuses they received while preparing for graduation and life. “They’re all different, they’ve all done different things and they’re all different ages,” Ware said.
While one mentor is a nurse owning multiple businesses, another is a retired teacher, retired counselor and former AmeriCorps associate.
Despite the varying differences in the scholars and their mentors, the group has developed memories and bonds even with scholar groups that formed in the years following the first group’s induction. The group agreed having access to the mentors has helped them in not having to go out of their way to get required school mentor hours.
“This program has helped us make a lot of new friends because every year that we’ve been here there’s always five more kids,” Cox said.
By starting visits to colleges in eighth grade, the REACH scholars were exposed to a variety of sizes of schools and career opportunities that a lot of high school students do not get a chance to experience.
High school REACH Advisor Jill Key asked the scholars if trips to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Berry, University of North Georgia and smaller schools have helped over the years.
Galloway and Seabolt agreed not many students go out on their own. Visiting the different environments starting at a young age made them aware of the possibilities.
While a lot of students are set on one particular school and never look at other schools, the REACH scholars are more prepared.
“The biggest experience that has helped me get ready for college is our dual enrollment program,” Long said. Himself, along with Ware will be graduating high school already further into their college careers compared to others starting college.
Now they are preparing for college with yet another advantage, set up with financial scholarships provided through REACH that help them get their bearings with a little less stress. Many of them are first time college students in their immediate family and hope to make yet another mark in history by establishing legacies for themselves and their future.
The REACH mission statewide provides Georgia students who are academically promising but lacking monies to go to college with the academic, social and financial support needed to graduate from high school and have access to college for a post-secondary education.
REACH Coordinator Candy Sisson said at a recent Fannin County Board of Education meeting, that over 60 public and private colleges are partnering with REACH, sometimes matching, doubling or even tripling scholarships for students attending their institutions.
Results are being tracked to ensure the program is helping students by looking at student success, behavior, participation and attendance on a quarterly basis, as well as administering surveys to students, parents and mentors.
“The program has made me push myself and I tend not to struggle as hard. REACH has definitely made all of us work harder toward our goals,” Galloway said.
While the inaugural REACH students look to graduation in 2020, the newest group of scholars will be inducted Tuesday, Nov. 12 at the Fannin County Middle School, making this the fifth REACH group in the Fannin system.