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Students get big head start

Arkadelphia seniors sign up for promise scholarships

By Wayne Bryan

This article was published May 22, 2011 at 6:00 a.m.

— Amid the atmosphere of a pep rally and the rhetoric of motivational speeches, 120 Arkadelphia High School seniors signed up to receive Arkadelphia Promise college scholarships during ceremonies Wednesday afternoon at the school.

Maggie King, who wants to study speech pathology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, was one of the first group of Arkadelphia students to sign a document accepting the scholarship.

“The scholarship is just perfect,” she said at the end of the ceremonies. “My family had saved for college, but this is a big help.”

Wearing T-shirts from the colleges and universities they wished to attend, the seniors came into the school gym, greeted with applause from fellow students, teachers and parents.

The Arkadelphia Promise program offers scholarship eligibility to any student who graduates from the Arkadelphia School District and achieves at least a 2.5 grade-point average or a minimum score of 19 on the ACT college entrance exam. There are no family income restrictions for the scholarship.

Students can use the money at in-state or out-of-state schools — at a public or private university. A student must also receive the Arkansas Lottery scholarship, and the Promise scholarship will make up the difference for the students’ college education.

“Some of the lottery scholarships have been announced,” said Jason Jones, executive director of the Promise program. “Others will be handed out later, so students will soon know if they can use the Arkadelphia scholarship.”

Southern Bancorp and the Ross Foundation, both based in Arkadelphia, partnered to fund the scholarship program, designed as part of the Clark County Strategic Plan. The scholarship will help students pay the cost of tuition and mandatory fees up to the highest rate charged by a public university in Arkansas.

The partners did not put a cap on the amount of money they would make available, but when the plan was first announced in November 2010, Southern Bancorp and The Ross Foundation said the program will last for at least 18 years.

“Now you have the means to graduate from college,” Jones told the students.

U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., congratulated the students for their success in school and said the Arkadelphia Promise is a “monumental head start” for their college careers.

Ross also praised the creators of the Clark County Strategic Plan for their persistence in making the Promise program a reality in Arkadelphia.

“This is the best example of a community that comes together and invests in its future,” he said.

Gov. Mike Beebe also praised the community for supporting its students.

“This a pretty unique opportunity,” he said. “The community has put their high school seniors at the front of their priorities.”

The governor told the students they now have an obligation to Arkadelphia and its people.

“Never forget Arkadelphia, and never forget those people who have done this for you,” Beebe said. “Thank them not with lip service, but by staying in school, graduating and making something of yourself.”

Of the 120 students who took part in the signing ceremony, 58 wore the dark red shirts marking their plans to attend Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. Twelve students said they plan to attend the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, nine are headed to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and seven wore the purple of Ouachita Baptist University, showing their intentions to stay in Arkadelphia to attend college.

Other Arkadelphia High School seniors plan to attend Ouachita Technical College in Malvern, Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.

Arkadelphia senior Matt White said he will attend Arkansas Tech because of the scholarship.

“I was going to go out of state, but with this scholarship, I will be staying here in Arkansas,” he said.

White plans on being an English major in hopes of being a writer.

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