BENTON -- Kelly High School freshmen and sophomores now have access to participate in a mentoring program that can earn them savings to attend a Missouri college.
For the first time, the Benton high school will participate in the A+ Schools Program, which provides a financial incentive for students who complete a required number of unpaid tutoring or mentoring hours.
A+ Program coordinator Laurel Bush said preliminary numbers indicate about 160 freshmen and sophomores have expressed interest in participating in the program.
"Our students know that this is a great opportunity," Bush said.
The board of education made the decision for the district to participate in the program, and last May, the district learned it had received the A+ designation, Bush said.
The A+ Program sends students who qualify to a two-year community college or a technical school free. Many four-year colleges in Missouri also offer scholarships to students who graduate from A+ high schools.
"Many of our students feel that college is not for them, either because of academics or finances," Bush said. "By offering the A+ Program, our school is giving them the chance to prepare for a career or post-secondary school, and the financial ability to achieve their goals."
In order to qualify, a student must attend an A+ school for three years, maintain a 2.5 GPA, have 95 percent attendance rate and complete 50 hours of tutoring. Once the student has met the program requirements, they apply to the community college or technical school of their choice. The school then bills the fees to the A+ Program.
Kelly students who participate in the program will have opportunity earn tutoring hours by volunteering in study hall for the middle school or working with the elementary after-school tutoring program, summer school or detention, Bush said.
And the more education someone has, the stronger their chances are for future employment, Bush said.
"The state of Missouri has determined if you have an associate's degree or degree from a technical school, you can earn $6,000 more per year than someone who has a high school degree. Add another $6,000 for a bachelor's degree from a four-year college," Bush said.
The A+ Schools Program was created in 1993 by state law as an incentive for improving Missouri's high schools. There are now 254 designated A+ high schools across the state that have graduated over 77,000 A+ eligible students since the program began in 1997. At least one semester of the A+ Schools Program financial incentive has been utilized by over 38,000 eligible students.
Other area high schools that participate in the program are Sikeston, Charleston, Bell City, Bernie, Bloomfield, Cape Girardeau, Caruthersville and Poplar Bluff.
Sikeston High School received its A+ designation in April 1999. Since then the school has had over 200 A+ qualified graduates and about 85 of those have used the program.
"It's been a great program for our students," said Kim Thornbrough, Sikeston High School senior counselor. "By completing A+, you get the first two years of school paid for, and there's even some four-year colleges that participate."
Bush said the school sent home pamphlets and information about the program. Information is also available on the school's Web site.
A meeting for parents and students is also scheduled for Thursday evening.
"They will find out when and where and how to enroll and be able pick up any documents they need," Bush said. "This is a wonderful opportunity for their students. An average college tuition for a semester is $2,000, and this is four semesters paid (upon A+ completion)."
Even if students think they don't want to go to college right after high school, A+ funds are available to them for four years, Bush said.
"I think in order for students to be successful, they have to feel important and know their life has meaning," Bush said. "This is a way to do both -- gain self esteem through mentoring and being able to take classes specialized toward their skills and interests."
* WHAT: A+ schools program information meeting for parents and students.
* WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
* WHERE: Kelly High School multipurpose room