Education

Dad drives 15 hours to see his son become one of MCSD’s nine 2018 REACH Scholars

Nine more high-achieving Muscogee County School District eighth-graders from low-income families are closer to making their dream of a college education a reality, thanks to the promise of a $10,000 scholarship and the invaluable support they received Thursday.

This is the third year MCSD has participated in the six-year-old public-private partnership program called REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen), initiated by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

REACH Scholars are paired with a mentor and an academic coach to support them through high school. The students must maintain a grade-point average of at least 2.5, demonstrate good behavior and attendance, participate in program events and be drug-free and crime-free to continue in the program. They also must use the scholarship at any HOPE Scholarship-eligible institution in Georgia, which may add more money to the scholarship amount of $10,000 ($2,500 per year) in addition to any other scholarships or grants the student receives.

MCSD’s 2018 cohort of REACH Scholars were announced during a ceremony in the Muscogee County Public Education Center, where the students and their parents or guardians signed contracts declaring they will meet the program’s requirements to receive the scholarship money. This year’s recipients are:

Breanna Bryant of East Columbus Magnet Academy; Beatriz Chavez of Eddy Middle School; Ayonna Durand of Double Churches Middle School; Ashley Warren of Blackmon Road Middle School; Jameelah Watson of Baker Middle School; Christopher Contreras-Lozano of Baker; Dean Devlin of Aaron Cohn Middle School; Dimitri Flowers of Midland Middle School; and Marcus Mesis of Rothschild Leadership Academy.

“Being in the eighth grade and already having money for my college education is not something that many students can say,” Marcus told the crowd. “… College opens the door to several opportunities that you might not otherwise be able to afford.”

Marcus’ father, Vince Mesis, was stationed at Fort Benning while serving in the U.S. Army. Now, he works as a game warden in Logan County, Okla. So to see his son sign this scholarship, he drove 15 hours, even though he had to drive right back Thursday night to return to his job.

Ann Caggins, the district’s REACH Scholarship development consultant, lauded Marcus’ father for attending the ceremony.

“He made his son so proud by showing up and being present,” Caggins said. “That is another part of why I love this program. It’s the kind of commitment that not only comes from all the educators who produce these children, who we inherit to take to the next step, but it’s the parents who show up for them. So we’re developing the whole family concept with REACH.”

After the ceremony, Mr. Mesis told the Ledger-Enquirer why he made that drive.

“It’s a milestone,” he said. “It’s important. There are things with your kids you don’t want to miss, and this is one of them.”

Marcus’ mother, Nicole Mesis, gushed about what her son has earned.

“I’m ecstatic,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity. It’s a blessing, to say the least. . . . I believe he will go very far with it.”

That destination, Marcus said, might be MIT or Georgia Tech, to major in computer science and become a video game designer.

Asked to explain the significance of seeing his father make such an effort to attend the ceremony, tears welled in Marcus’ eyes as he said, “It means a lot. . . . I’m glad he did.”

Importance of scholarship

Fort principal Sonja Matthews-Coaxum said her school’s PTA and students raised $1,025 for the district’s REACH Scholarship fund.

“I implore each of you to give to REACH,” she said.

Then she told the REACH scholars the acronym also could mean that “you are Remarkable, Encouraging, Appreciative, Caring and Headed in the right direction.”

Muscogee County School Board chairwoman Kia Chambers told the scholars, “I want you to write this date down. Remember this day, October 25, 2018, because today marks the beginning, a new beginning for you. And it’s going to be a special day when you look back on your life’s journey.

“Today, you are being given keys of opportunity. The REACH program is investing in you, encouraging you and challenging you to reach for your dreams. And when you dream, I would encourage you to dream big.”

MCSD superintendent David Lewis called the scholarship a public-private partnership that is “yet another example of what distinguishes Columbus from so many other communities.”

He urged the scholars to “take full advantage of this opportunity that you have. But, more importantly, once you get that education, I want you to pay it forward, because there others behind you that would not have this opportunity if it weren’t for people in this community, and we want you to be part of that giving community.”

Reginald Griffin, principal of the Marshall Success Center, which houses MCSD’s alternative school programs, is the district’s REACH Scholarship coordinator. He credits Columbus Councilor Pops Barnes for bringing REACH to Columbus.

“The state of Georgia’s economy and well-being hinges on the expertise of our youth,” Griffin said, “and we will all benefit from our great scholars’ education in the future.”

HOW TO APPLY

These nine REACH scholars were selected out of more than 150 seventh-graders who applied last spring, said MCSD communications director Mercedes Parham. Applications for the 2019 cohort will be available at each middle school in the district after standardized testing is completed next spring. Interviews will start in May.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.

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