Rusk TJC ‘Promise’ program names new group of scholars

The seventh group of Rusk TJC Citizens Promise scholars was introduced Tuesday during a ceremony at Rusk High School. The 59 Rusk seniors are eligible for the Rusk Promise scholarship, which covers up to $4,000 per year for two years at TJC. Pictured with the students are (far left, from left): Ronny Snow, Rusk High School principal; Dr. Juan E. Mejia, TJC president; Megan Burns, TJC scholarship recruitment and retention coordinator; Jim and Margaret Perkins, Perkins Family Foundation; (far right, from left) Dr. Grey Burton, Rusk ISD superintendent; Charles Hassell, Citizens 1st Bank; and Mitch Andrews, TJC vice president for institutional advancement and executive director of the TJC Foundation.

RUSK – A successful scholarship program that launched in 2014 has recognized 58 Rusk High School students who are now eligible to be part of the seventh group of Rusk TJC Citizens Promise scholarship students.

They were introduced during a special ceremony at the high school campus on Tuesday, which included TJC president Dr. Juan E. Mejia, who addressed the student body, along with high school principal Ronny Snow, Citizens 1st Bank executive vice president Charles Hassell and John Wofford, a 2019 RHS graduate currently in his first semester at TJC.

The students – identified as Nicholas Acker, Jamyah Anderson, Jordan Booth, Lauren Boudreaux, Ezequiel Briseno Ortiz, Aaron Brooks, Donna Chain, Chloey Cleaver, Karen Colby, Mariela Cruz, Jordan Crysup, Victoria Davis, Seth Day, Claire Ferguson, Zurisadai Flores, Lanie Ford, Haylee Gray, Alyssa Hardy, Victoria Harper, Lara Hensley, Ana Hernandez, Jaci Hood, Valeria D. Iniguez Olguin, Kellie Jamail, Aaliyah Johnson, Claire Kellis, Avery Kinney, Lance Knott, Gabriel Lopez, Jacob Lucena, Crystal Martinez, Mollie McCalister, Ariel McClure, David Merchant, Kailee Millsap, Esther Mora, Colton Morris, Logan Orsack, Avery Perez, Evelyn Peters, Sophie Philibert, Raquel Rangel, Naomi Reifel, Jennifer Rosales Valdez, Adrianna Sanchez, Melanie Santos Rangel, Elizabeth Seals, Ahmad Sessions, Lainey Sprayberry, Trey Thompson, Johnathan Torres, Haley Trawick, Jaheim Upshaw, Micah Wallace, Jaylei Wick, Sarah Wofford, Jacob Woodlee, Lance Work and Savanna Young – are part of larger group of approximately 275 to 300 Promise scholars from the school, said Rusk ISD Superintendent Grey Burton.

“The year prior to the program, we had 39.4 percent of our high school students attending college immediately after graduation. The state percentage was 56.9, and 55.1 was the percent in the region. The next year – the first year of the Promise program – our number increased to 64.1 percent, (while) the state's was 57.5 and the region's was 54.5,” he said.

“This is the first program in the state of Texas and the only program who now has college graduates, so the impact has been immeasurable for our students,” he said. “To give a child the hope and means to attend college not only makes a positive difference after they are college graduates, but it also pushes them to excel academically while in school. They all realize only the top half of each graduating class receives the scholarship and they want to be certain they are eligible.”

For parents, the Promise program has allowed them a way to give their kids a chance to go to college.

“They are all extremely gracious about the opportunity for their kids,” Burton said. “I’ve seen huge smiles and tears of overwhelming joy.”

According to a release from the college, the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise is one of the earliest Promise programs in the United States and the first such initiative in Texas.

The program is a partnership between TJC, the TJC Foundation, Rusk ISD, Citizens 1st Bank and The Perkins Family Foundation, with an initiative that covers up to $4,000 per year for two years at TJC. In addition to graduating in the top half of their class with a minimum 2.5 GPA, qualifying students must also reside in Rusk ISD and must have attended Rusk High School during their junior and senior years, the release stated.

“TJC is our educational partner but The Perkins Family Foundation (James I. and Margaret Perkins, former RHS graduates) actually pays the tuition through an endowment at Citizens 1st Bank,” Burton said. “These students receive $2,000 each semester while at TJC. The Perkins Family Foundation has invested close to $2.4 million in their education.”

But that isn't the only benefit the program provides, he added.

“We have a coordinator, Megan Cumbee Burns (another former Rusk graduate), at TJC who works with our students before and during their time at TJC to ensure they are prepared to enter and successful once they are on campus. Her involvement is paramount to the program’s success,” he said.

According to a release from the college, Burns is TJC's scholarship recruitment and retention coordinator who graduated from Rusk in 2006, who also “hosts a series of workshops and meetings especially for them and their parents, to ease the students’ transition from high school to TJC.”

Overall, the Promise program is a solid investment all the way around, Burton said.

“As I said before, the students know the opportunity is there and they know what it takes to receive it – it has definitely increased their academic performance,” which, in turn, reflects the district's achievements, he said. “In Texas 55.7 percent of students going to college attend without needing to enroll in 'Developmental Education Courses' and in our region, that percent drops to 50.6 percent. In Rusk ISD, 74.2 percent of our graduates attend without the need for those courses. The program is 'paying off' in every aspect for our students.”

Earlier in the year, the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise program caught the eye of state officials, who selected it among the finalists for a 2019 Texas Higher Education Star Award.

The program has advanced to a selection committee, which determines the winners. All seven finalists and subsequent winners will be recognized during the 19th Annual Star Awards Ceremony to be held at the Texas Higher Education Leadership Conference on Nov. 22 in Austin, according to the release.

“If the program is selected, it will be the first time TJC has been recognized for a Star Award by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board,” said Mitch Andrews, TJC vice president for institutional advancement and executive director of the TJC Foundation. 

“The program demonstrates a successful partnership to build a college-going culture. We are grateful to Citizens 1stBank, the Perkins Family Foundation and the community of Rusk for their vision in establishing the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise.”

To learn more about the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise, visit TJC.edu/RuskPromise.

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