Keeping a Promise for Education

John and Loretta Goodloe together have 14 high school students assigned to mentor through the new Tennessee Promise program during its first year. (Photo by Vanessa Curry)

VANESSA CURRY, The Columbia Daily Herald

After retiring from careers in education, after years of service in public office, John and Loretta Goodloe sit at their dining room table looking over their homework for their next endeavor.

Preparing to mentor a combined 14 Maury County high school students, the Goodloes already have received a short stack of informational booklets, reviewed a 45-minute webinar and received at least a dozen email updates attempting to prepare them for their future tasks.

They are not alone as they join more than 130 other Maury County volunteers working on the front lines of a statewide campaign to fulfill the Tennessee Promise — allowing high school graduates to attend a community college or a state technical college tuition free.

The program has “grown beyond belief” said Ben Sterling, the outreach coordinator for tnAchieves, a Knoxville-based, non-profit company administering the program.

Sterling estimated that 57,000 students representing about 90 percent of state high school students registered by Nov. 1 for the program. That figure includes 758 who applied in Maury County — a number that often reflects the entire graduation class of a single school like Mt. Pleasant.

State statistics show that the college-going rate is about 61 percent in Maury County with a 24 percent college education attainment rate.

The initiative, started by Gov. Bill Haslam, attracted national attention earlier this month when President Barack Obama visited Knoxville to announce plans to incorporate the program nationwide.

tnAchieve organized an effort to recruit adult mentors to help students navigate various applications, deadlines and their first year in college. The company also matched students with various mentors.

Loretta Goodloe’s group includes three girls and four boys, all from Mt. Pleasant. John Goodloe is assigned seven boys in Spring Hill — a challenge, he said, considering all of his own children are girls. Both met with their groups last week and now are working to establish contact with them via email.

“I’m all for helping kids to get through college,” said John Goodloe, a former elementary school teacher and administrator, who worked his way through college as a factory worker. He also is a former county commissioner.

He admits, however, that “volunteering” to be a mentor actually was his wife’s idea.

“I’m really bad about telling him what I think he needs to do,” said Loretta Goodloe, a former elementary school teacher and school board member.

The recent seminar — presented via a website — for mentors addressed an upcoming mandatory meeting and the Feb. 15 deadline for students to complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — better known as FAFSA.

The financial aid program is “key to the door of financial assistance,” presenter Jason Seay said.

All student enrolled in a post-secondary institution must complete a FAFSA application in order to determine if the he/she is qualified for any state or federal scholarship and/or grant.

Seay’s webinar walks mentors through the application process, giving them tips on how maximize the program benefits. Although mentors are not required to help students fill out the application, they are encouraged to be familiar with the process in order to assist when needed.

Filling out the application can be a little “intimidating,” Sterling said because it involves compiling their parents’ income and tax information — something new for most students. FAFSA also requires information about untaxed income, checking and savings accounts, as well as investments, business and farm assets.

Although the FAFSA application can be filled out online, Seay warned mentors to be aware of businesses attempting to charge students for filling out the FAFSA application. Websites like appear to represent the federal organization, but actually charge students to help them complete the application.

“Always remember that the first letter of FAFSA is the word free,” he said.

Seay also encourages students to fill out the application as soon as possible because of “first-come, first-serve” grants or loan programs that may run out of funding.

“The application is correctable, so file it as soon as possible and then come back and ad or correct information as needed,” Seay said.

Mentors also help students pay attention to little details of the list of requirements like ensuring the boys register with the selective service and reminding students to bring a parent to the meeting at Central High School at the end of the month.

Officials at Columbia State Community College also are offering a free “FAFSA Frenzy Event” from 3:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 22 to assist students with the application. The event is scheduled to be conducted in the college library.

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