Education program prepares for banquet

Published 6:55 pm Friday, April 9, 2010

It’s a good year to be a Mississippi Scholar in LincolnCounty.

Organizers are keeping silent about the exact amount, but the 168high school seniors countywide participating in the program in 2010will be the beneficiaries of the most scholarship funding everraised in Mississippi Scholars’ five-year history. Fundraisingchairman David Culpepper said the figures would not be releaseduntil time to award the scholarships at the annual banquet on April19.

“We want it to be a surprise,” he said. “Let’s just say the numbersare up this year.”

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A look back at the record-setting season in 2009 gives some idea ofwhat Culpepper is talking about. Last year approximately $123,000in scholarship funding was pledged, and better than $92,000 inscholarships were awarded at the banquet. Support from the localbusinesses and private donors who pay into scholars has notwavered, and the program has picked up backing from more collegesand universities, bringing the total number to 12.

Students and their parents will find out about the scholarships atthe banquet.

It begins at 6:30 p.m. at Easthaven Baptist Church on April 19, andwill be preceded by a college and career fair at the National GuardArmory on Highway 84 at 3 p.m. Almost every college and universityin Mississippi is expected to have a booth at the event.

Admission to the banquet is $15 for parents and anyone who isinterested in seeing Mississippi Scholars in action. Scholars willbe provided for.

“The college fair is for those seniors who have not quite decidedwhere they’re going to attend school and for sophomores and juniorsto begin looking at their college options,” Culpepper said. “Youcannot start looking at college too early.”

Over the program’s five years, more than $170,000 in scholarshipshas been awarded to Lincoln County seniors from both public andprivate schools, and around $200,000 has been available. Studentsmust meet a number of academic and community service requirementsto participate – the most obvious being enrollment in morechallenging courses – and each is rewarded with the MississippiScholars stamp on high school transcripts and many receivescholarships.

Mississippi Scholars’ success has resulted in success in collegesaround the state, Culpepper said. Picking up a copy of the April 2edition of The DAILY LEADER, he began counting names on theUniversity of Mississippi’s chancellor’s honor roll. Of the 14local students who carried a 3.75 GPA and made the list, eight wereformer scholars.

“That’s evidence of our program’s success,” he said.

Only one factor is limiting Mississippi Scholars this year, andorganizers aren’t quite sure what to make of it – the number ofseniors participating is down by 34 students, or about 17percent.

A record 202 seniors were honored at the banquet last year,representing 42 percent of all seniors countywide. The 168 scholarsthis year are closer to 35 percent, said Mississippi ScholarsChairman Kenny Goza.

A number of factors could be at play in the drop, Goza said. Theprogram now requires that scholars have a 95 percent attendancerecord, and the size of the classes at the six high schools in thecounty could be fluctuating.

The decrease is the first for Mississippi Scholars, and Goza saidit has yet to be analyzed. He said program organizers would meetwith school counselors to sort it out and improve scholars for2011.

“It’s not a major drop-off, it’s just cycled down a little bit, andwe realize that,” he said.