Area counties look to emulate scholar efforts

Published 6:57 pm Friday, April 9, 2010

Lawrence and Pike counties are guilty of coveting theirneighbor’s house, but Lincoln County doesn’t mind at all.

In fact, the hometown promoters of Lincoln County’s highlysuccessful Mississippi Scholars program were more than willing toshare their methods and formulas when they felt that longing starefrom the counties to the east and south.

After several meetings and discussions with local scholarsrepresentatives, both Lawrence and Pike counties are implementingtheir own versions of the program, bringing several schools andhundreds more students into the fold of challenging and rewardingacademic work.

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Since both counties are new to the program, each is starting smalland taking it slow. Both, though, have already assembled a strongcore of volunteers and support and begun making pitches to theflagship class of eighth-graders.

“We want to be like Lincoln County. It’s so dynamic,” said DebbieLea, chairman of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce’s newlyestablished Mississippi Scholars Committee. “I think our studentsare going to do great here in Lawrence County. They’re all on boardwith it and they want to be recognized.”

The Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce voted to instituteMississippi Scholars in November, and Lincoln County scholarsrepresentatives have made presentations and given advice to thefledgling program along the way, Lea said. The Lincoln Countyprogram is in its fifth year of operation, and has organized about$170,000 in scholarships for hundreds of local seniors.

So far, the Lawrence County program has 30 volunteer presenters andhas spoken with approximately 170 eighth-graders who will hopefullytake on the challenge of Mississippi Scholars, which requiresrigorous academic coursework, good grades and community service.Participating students receive the program’s seal on theirtranscripts and some are rewarded with scholarship money, raised bydonations from businesses, individuals and colleges anduniversities.

The Lawrence County program has raised about $2,000 so far andplans to try to reward some current seniors who, although notofficially in Mississippi Scholars, can meet the program’srequirements.

“I don’t foresee us doing something on a grand scale like whatBrookhaven and Lincoln County are doing, but we do want torecognize our students,” Lea said. “We don’t have the business baselike Lincoln County does, but we’re going to do what we can.”

The story is similar in Pike County.

Pike County Chamber of Commerce Program Director Tammy Menard saidMississippi Scholars was kick-started in her county when LincolnCounty Mississippi Scholars Chairman Kenny Goza spoke at a teacherappreciation banquet last year. Communication continued between thetwo counties throughout 2009, and Pike County presenters beganrecruiting eighth-graders into the program in January.

“We had spoken with a couple of people there in Brookhaven and itwas a great idea. All of the superintendents thought it was a greatidea, so we made the call, got the training and started it,” Menardsaid.

The Pike County chamber faces the challenge of coordinatingMississippi Scholars over four school districts. The South PikeSchool District was already running a version of the program,giving the new, all-encompassing Mississippi Scholars a little moreof a base to build upon.

Like Lawrence County, Pike County presenters plan to makepresentations to grades nine, 10 and 11 next year. The Pike programis also looking to honor seniors that would qualify this year witha banquet.

Menard said no money has been raised for scholarships yet, but thatwill likely change. Pike County enjoys a large economic base, andinterested businessmen are already coming forward, she said.

“Out of the 25 volunteers, at least 20 of them are with abusiness,” she said. “We have a large business base that wants tohelp with this program.”

Goza said Lincoln County’s scholars officials are quite pleasedwith the efforts in Lawrence and Pike counties, saying it’s theirduty to spread the successful program.

“It’s our responsibility as citizens to not isolate ourselves fromour neighbors, but work together to grow Southwest Mississippi,” hesaid. “If one wins, we all win.”

Goza said Lincoln County scholars officials are working to spreadMississippi Scholars even farther, having held presentations withinterested parties in Meridian, Jefferson Davis County and WarrenCounty. Local supporters will pitch the program statewide next weekduring a meeting of the Mississippi Economic Council.