“This program operates in 25 counties across the state, offering scholarships to over 23,000 students in 120 high schools.”
The program, previously called knoxAchieves, first began serving students in Knox County in 2008. Thomas is expecting to get more than 10,000 scholarship applications from across the state with nearly 400 coming from Bradley County public schools alone. Each scholarship recipient is paired with a volunteer mentor who works with the student to ease the barriers associated with college access and success.
In its first year in Bradley County, tnAchieves received 319 scholarship applications. In August, 175 students began school at Cleveland State Community College with assistance from tnAchieves. The program anticipates needing 76 mentors for the current school year and currently has 46 volunteers registered to serve as mentors.
Mentors spend less than one hour per month working with five high school seniors. The mentors encourage their students through the college-going process and remind them of important dates and deadlines.
“More than 68 percent of applicants are first-generation college attendees and 62 percent are from families that earn less than $50,000 annually,” Thomas said. In fact, some of the participating high schools have 100 percent of their applicants coming from first generation households.
Students have been applying for the scholarship through their school guidance office over the last few months. The program has been actively recruiting mentors to work with students since June. Mentors attend a one-hour training session and receive a handbook to help guide them through the process.
“There is, however, still a need for more volunteers as the program expects a significant growth from last year.” Thomas said. “tnAchieves has created a structured program to ensure students are progressing towards college and the mentors play a vital role in student success.”
Mentors attend two meetings, one in January and one in March, where they interact with the students and help guide them through the college application and financial aid processes. Mentors continue to assist the students into their first semester of college mainly staying in contact via phone calls and text messages.
“We are very pleased to have the tnAchieves program here in Bradley County,” said Gary Farlow Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, in addition to being a tnAchieves mentor. “This is a great opportunity for students who might not otherwise be able to pursue their education beyond high school. We also must commend Allan Jones for his very generous contribution to this program to enable any Bradley County or Cleveland high school student to attend Cleveland State Community College. Having an educated workforce greatly improves our community’s ability to continue to recruit new businesses to Bradley County.”
According to Krissy DeAlejandro, tnAchieves’ executive director, the mentoring component is the heart of this program.
“The reason the students are successful is because they have a trusted resource in their mentors to help with any questions or concerns that arise along the way,” DeAlejandro said. “A very small time commitment from our volunteers can have a very large impact on the students.”
For more information, visit www.tnachieves.org, or call DeAlejandro at 865-621-9223 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.