Andrea Agardy, The Tullahoma News
As the state launches the Tennessee Promise program — which will provide two years of free tuition to thousands of high school graduates across the state — the call has gone out for mentors to help guide students through the process.
Mayor Lane Curlee is hosting a meeting at city hall next Tuesday evening in an effort to encourage members of the community to sign up to be mentors.
Dr, Dan Lawson, director of Tullahoma City Schools, and Dr. Mary Lou Apple, president of Motlow College, will also be on hand to provide additional information and to answer questions from attendees.
“A lot of students have their parents’ support in making that transition after high school, but a lot of them don’t have that support and encouragement,” Curlee said. “And that’s a shame. Mentors will step in to that role. We’re not asking mentors to step in to their lives and help with big life decisions, other than the college or technical school part of their lives.”
“This is wide open to for anyone who wants to make a difference,” Curlee said. “I hope we have homemakers, retirees, employees of all kinds and teachers (at Tuesday’s meeting). I’d really like to see a cross section of the community.”
Lawson addressed the upcoming information session when the board of education met on Monday evening.
“We believe we will need 60 mentors (in Coffee County) and as of yesterday, we have about 25 mentors identified,” he said.
Lawson said each mentor will be matched up with anywhere between five and 10 students, depending upon the number of mentors available. He said mentors should be able to fulfill their responsibilities in about 10 to 15 hours a year, regardless of the number of students they are assisting.
“The responsibility of a mentor is going to be primarily texting, emailing and providing some support for a group of young people looking for assistance in navigating the process of higher education,” Lawson said.
“The time is minimal and the reward is great and I would suggest if you have an interest in mentoring… we invite folks to take a look at this. We think it has the potential to provide some great things for Coffee County citizens who otherwise may not have an opportunity to get the assistance.”
Officials said prospective mentors do not need to have a background in education or any specific qualifications other than an interest in helping young students.
Curlee pointed out that by participating in the mentoring program; residents would not only be helping the students as individuals, but will also be working to better the community as a whole.
“The Coffee County Industrial Development Board estimates that 1,000 new jobs will be created either by company expansions or relocations over the next three to five years in Coffee and Franklin counties,” the mayor said. “Most of these new jobs will require post-high school education and many with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) emphasis. It is critical we move students from high school to either community college or technical schools or we could very well lose out on these company expansions or relocations.”
The deadline for mentors to sign up for the program is Nov. 1. The same deadline has been set for students to register to participate.
“If a child has not signed up by Nov. 1, they have missed the deadline and they will not be allowed such a chance,” Lawson said. “This is a hard and fast deadline so it’s critical that we acquire some mentors and we do as much as we can to get folks involved in the process of signing up and being involved in the tnAchieves program.”
The mentor recruiting meeting will be held upstairs at city hall on Tuesday, Sept. 23 beginning at 5 p.m. To RSVP, email Curlee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last February, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Tennessee Promise, a statewide program through which all high school graduates, or students who have completed a home school program, will be eligible for two years of free tuition at a community colleges, college of applied technology (TCAT) or an in-state four-year college or university that offers associate’s degree programs. Members of the class of 2015 will be the first group of graduates offered the incentive. The program operates as a “last-dollar scholarship,” covering the remaining costs after all other financial aid is applied, with the exception of loans and work-study.
The Tennessee Promise comes with an estimated annual price tag of $34 million. A new endowment will help fund the program by transferring approximately $300 million in lottery reserves and combining those funds with the $47 million endowment the General Assembly created last year. On top of that, the amount of the two-year Hope Scholarship award will be reduced to $3,000 for freshman and sophomore years at both two- and four-year institutions.
Currently, Hope Scholarship students attending four-year institutions receive up to $6,000 per year, and those at two-year schools can receive as much as $3,000. Hope Scholarships would be capped at $5,000 a year for junior year and beyond.
In order to participate in Tennessee Promise, students would have to meet a number of requirements, including working with an assigned mentor and completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and college applications before the respective deadlines. tnAchieves has partnered with Tennessee Promise to provide the necessary mentors. Tennessee Promise is part of the governor’s Drive to 55 campaign, an effort to boost the state’s percentage of college graduates from 33 percent to 55 percent by 2025.
Andrea Agardy can be reached by email at email@example.com.