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knoxAchieves achieves

This fall mentors in the knoxAchieves program will be sending their first group of participating students off to one of Knox County’s three community colleges.

Those students might not have made it that far without the tuition assistance provided by knoxAchieves and the helpful push of their mentors.

The knoxAchieves mentors started visiting with their assigned students in January 2009 as a way to get students who are either at-risk or first-generation college students enrolled in community college. The students are found through their guidance counselors at every Knox County public school, but have to apply to be admitted into the program. Once enrolled at either Pellissippi State, Roane State or Walters State community colleges, knoxAchieves rewards each student with $2,000 in tuition assistance for the year.

Executive Director Kristy Dealejandro said, “We work really closely with the guidance counselors in the schools to make sure we are grabbing that student who may not receive the [Tennessee Hope Scholarship], who has a lot of potential but just didn’t apply themselves maybe, and they are just struggling a little bit.”

She describes the mentoring component of knoxAchieves as “the heart of the program.”

“Sixty percent of our children are first generation college attendees,” Dealejandro said. “We try to pair them with someone who is familiar with the college experience and can guide them along the way.”

The most important part of mentoring is to get rid of the intimidation factor that comes with applying for college.

“Their main task is basically to work with the students to eliminate all the barriers associated with the transition from high school to college,” Dealejandro said. “They help them fill out applications, make sure they register for the A-C-T, then on the flip side, they make sure they have registered for classes and that they’ve met all the application deadlines.

“Basically they serve as ‘encouragers’ for the kids,” she added.

State Representative and Farragut High School graduate Ryan Haynes emphasized how easy it was to do something so rewarding for area students. Haynes has mentored four students from Farragut and Bearden high schools since January, and now one is enrolled at Roane State and the others at Pellissippi.

“It was really all mapped out for us,” Haynes said about the program. “It’s not hard to get involved with at all, and it makes a huge difference.”

Most of Haynes’ students were first-generation college students, who maybe did not have ACT scores high enough to get them the Hope Scholarship, but could still receive a great education with a little help. He emphasized encouragement is needed across the board.

“Some of my friends who mentored as well, they had some students who their parents hadn’t gone through college, so they just wanted some help with the process, they were nervous with it. Really it’s not that it’s so hard to do, its just having someone there to motivate them.

“That was kind of the big deal. A lot of these kids, just higher education was never in their background. It gave them the opportunity to have somebody in their lives pushing them.”

A mentor’s job doesn’t just stop at enrollment. Mentors call the kids to make sure they get to class on time on their first day of school. It’s the last deadline requirement for receiving the tuition assistance. There are more requirements to keep up with during their first year of school, however. Students have to keep a 2.0 grade point average and must complete one pre-approved community service project a semester.

Dealejandro doesn’t quite know how many students in the program will make it, since school has not started yet.

“We plan on sending over 350 students to college. We think that for our first year, that is a huge success,” Dealejandro said. “We took 497 kids, and we lost 100 of them just to other schools, which we think is a success in and of itself. We lost a couple who just failed to complete the financial aid packet. Then we lost a few to the technology centers, and places like that.”


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