SOAR Getting Ready To Takeoff In Highland County
Monterey, Va – The Great Aspirations Scholarship Program, Incorporated, known as GRASP, a non-profit corporation based in Glen Allen, Virginia brought its counseling program to Highland High School a few months ago. Highland county resident Renee Vandevander was hired to help students and their families develop an educational plan for going to college or technical school. Renee has already met with 27 students to help them prepare for the college application process and learn about financial aid opportunities.
Now GRASP is launching a new program in Highland County called SOAR Virginia that is designed to help students who may not have access to the financial resources needed for college. Bettsy Heggie, GRASP Executive Director, talks about this new opportunity for Highland students to earn scholarship money starting in the ninth grade.
“What we’re going to add after January first is this early commitment program for ninth graders” says Heggie. “So the idea is that if you’re in the ninth grade, we want you to understand that maintaining a 2.5 GPA [grade point average] at least and not getting in trouble is going to be critical to your future success. Renee is going to work with a small group of students in the ninth grade, and next year she’ll pick up another group of students and this thing will build. Each of those students will be able to earn $2000.00 in scholarships.”
These scholarship funds will be kept in a Virginia 529 college savings account for the students to use after graduation. In return for the scholarship funds, students make a commitment to achieve good grades, do community service, and stay out of trouble while in high school. So the program gets students to start thinking about their college plans early and keeps them on the right track through high school.
This increases their likelihood of getting a quality college or technical school education. Mrs. Heggie goes on to describe how the scholarship money accumulates during high school.
“It’s being funded by the Virginia College Savings program” she says. “The first year the student participates, they’ll receive a $250.00 529 plan scholarship, and then the next year, they’ll get another $250.00, then in their junior year $500.00 [ and] their senior year, $500.00. And they if they attend a Virginia school, they will receive an additional $500.00.”
The Virginia 529 college savings program is funding these scholarships. Highland High School will be nominating ninth graders for the new SOAR Virginia program and GRASP advisor Renee Vandevander will meet with students throughout their high school years to help them stay on track. Renee will also be available to help students find financial aid for college when they start the college application process in their senior year. Schools participating in the SOAR program can receive $90,000 in scholarships during this first phase of the new program.
Mrs. Heggie is excited to bring this new opportunity to Highland High School.
“We were particularly interested in bringing the program to Highland County and requested that they allow us to bring this particular SOAR program for early commitment to the county and the Virginia 529 folks agreed with it, which we were thrilled about” says Heggie.
GRASP staff will be coming to Highland County in January to meet with high school principal Kelly Wilmore to discuss details of implementing the SOAR program.