Scholars officials aiming for another successful year

Published 6:00 am Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lincoln County has officially kicked off another year as one ofMississippi’s leaders in the Mississippi Scholars program, withlocal business leaders going into classrooms to tell students ofthe perks of the educational enrichment program.

The Mississippi Scholars Program has stated a desire for everyMississippi student to “increase their high school academic rigor.”As such, it encourages students to take more challenging courses toprepare them more fully for life beyond high school. Ideally, thisoffers students a greater number of opportunities as they attendcollege or join the workforce.

Currently, local business people are going into area classroomsand giving presentations showing the economic benefits of a bettereducation as they apply to the world after high school. Thepresentation shows how an accelerated curriculum can help studentsin the transition to college or straight into the workplace.

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Lincoln County piloted the program two years ago and was givencredit by the Mississippi Economic Council as being extremelysuccessful. Their second year far exceeded the expectations ofstate officials as well as local leaders.

Kenny Goza, the local chairman for the Mississippi ScholarsInitiative, said last year around 40 area business leaders madeclassroom presentations to over 1,200 students between eighth and11th grades to let them know why being a Mississippi Scholar is soimportant. The program continues to improve.

“We are viewed as an example by the Mississippi Economic Councilfor the rest of the state in how we operate the program,” saidGoza. “All that has to do with the success we have between thepartnership of schools and the business community.”

Goza pointed to the fact that last year area businesses raisedand donated $16,500 in scholarships for select MississippiScholars, and that this year seems on track to exceed thatnumber.

“We have really developed the program very well in regards tothe fact that we encourage students to take the curriculum, but theincentive is that we’ve given scholarships,” he said. “According tocounselors and principals, that is the top shelf incentive. That’swhat students are excited about.”

Last year, 101 students graduated from Lincoln County Schools asMississippi Scholars. Goza said preliminary numbers put this year’snumber around 120.

He said the continued growth and success of the program is duein major part to the local leaders who take time out of theirschedules to make presentations in area classrooms.

“We are most appreciative as a steering committee to have thenumber of volunteers we have, and we are always looking to involvemore people,” he said. “But we do have impact as business leaders,speaking in the classrooms, which gives them a taste ofreality.”

The enthusiasm of the community to continue leading the way inthe Mississippi Scholars program is also a major factor in thesuccess of the program.

“We’ve got more business presenters, and we’ve got new peopletrained,” he said. “The success in the community is because peoplehave really bought into it.”

And further help came from the Chamber of Commerce, Goza said,who took the proverbial ball from the state and ran with it.

“I appreciate the state offering the program but I alsoappreciate the chamber embracing it, and our community has in thesame way embraced it and done a great job with it,” Goza said.

But the important part, Goza said, is that local high schoolersare seeing the benefits of upping their scholastic endeavors byenrolling in the program.

“We have kids that listen and those that don’t, and there’snothing we can really do about that,” he said. “But we’re trying toaddress the dropout problem in the state, and encouraging them tostay in school.”