Class of 2018 Scholarships Top $1 Million

Union County High School

It might be a school record. Scholarships won by the Union County High School class of 2018 topped $1 million, and school counselor Jennifer Pointer said if it's not a record, only the class of 2008 would have come close.

That's because the classes of 2018 and 2008 were GEAR UP TN classes, in which state and federal grants fund special support for students starting in 7th grade and following them through graduation. The support is aimed at helping make college and other post-secondary training more accessible to students. Jamie Branton works with the GEAR UP students, leading trips to colleges and jobsites, summer programs and more.

"The access is a lot different with those groups because they're more familiar with colleges and what's out there," said Pointer. "It changes the ball game when you have that kind of awareness going on."

UCHS school counselors rotate class responsibilities, meaning that one counselor follows each class from freshman year through graduation. Pointer had this year's senior class, and she said Hope and Tennessee Promise scholarships accounted for a significant amount of the $1 million in scholarships.

"One hundred percent of our seniors applied for Tennessee Promise," she said. "In their senior year we have seminar classes where they come in and we have all the students in a classroom apply for Tennessee Promise and apply for a college that will work with Tennessee Promise, so they at least have all applied for one college."

The school counselors also provide career and college access counseling, two FAFSA Frenzy events in fall and spring to help students apply for federal aid, and they meet individually with students to discuss their goals for life after graduation. They're also sure to announce and celebrate each scholarship a Union County High School student wins to help inspire younger students.

"We try to help them navigate the whole process because it's a little overwhelming," Pointer said. "One of the biggest things I've seen is that it's so easy for them to get that Tennessee Promise scholarship and go to a two-year college, a lot of them don't apply for outside scholarships. We've really come a long way in the state of Tennessee. It's just opened up so much access for everybody.

Pointer said 80 percent of this year's graduates are going on to some kind of post-secondary training, and about 20 percent moved straight into the workforce.

Another factor in that $1 million figure is the number of 2018 Union County grads entering the military and receiving college scholarships through those commitments. The school doesn't count military signing bonuses towards the total, but scholarships to college received from military commitments are counted.

"This was the biggest military group we've ever had," said Pointer. "We had seven or eight in the National Guard, and someone in almost every other branch. It's interesting the way that happened. The National Guard recruits hard at our school. For everyone else, that's just what the kids wanted to do. That's who they were."

Some new local scholarships were formed this year, too. Along with local funds from the Union County Business and Professional Association, Sunset Bay Homeowners Association, the municipalities and other local organizations, Doc Williams of Thunder Road Veterinary Clinic gave a scholarship this year. The Pam Hanson Memorial Scholarship was created this year in honor of a longtime Union County kindergarten teacher by her surviving husband, and two students received scholarships from that fund.

Pointer said she anticipates that UCHS scholarship figures will continue to climb.

"I really think you're going to continue to see growth in these numbers," she said. "Just going forward, we're wanting to continue to grow what we're doing. We want kids to be more aware of opportunities early on, have more face-to-face interventions and more parental involvement. We're working on strategies to improve that."

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