In a special “education pep rally” event at Badger Stadium, at precisely 5:51 p.m., Dr. Wesley Kluck announced that Arkadelphia would follow the El Dorado school district, and have a “method to increase college attendance, and a process to ensure that the financial gap could be filled with outside resources.”
The Ross Foundation and Southern Bancorp have partnered to make this opportunity available to students. According to the Arkadelphia Promise website that went viral during the pep rally, “the goal of the Arkadelphia Promise Scholarship is to increase the college-going rate for local students, reduce the number of students dropping out of college for financial reasons and provide a more educated workforce.”
As of yesterday, every student in the Arkadelphia school system is eligible for financial aid. Providing that they meet basic academic requirements, the Promise Scholarship will help to “fill the gap” to pay tuition and fees they are not able to pay with other scholarships.
The scholarship will pay up to the cost of the most expensive state school in Arkansas, and will be eligible for both state and private schools.
The rousing event, which offered free hot dogs, was attended by what many felt was the entire Arkadelphia community. The stands in the stadium were completely full, and police had to redirect latecomers.
After a late start, the Arkadelphia Band kicked things off with their performance, then Arkadelphia Superintendent Donnie Whitten, who served as the master of ceremonies, introduced Dr. Wesley Kluck, a leader in the Clark County Strategic Plan, who made the announcement.
Representatives from the Ross Foundation and Southern Bancorp followed, speaking about the importance of the event.
“What a great day for Arkadelphia,” said Ross Whipple, speaking for the Ross Foundation.
Whipple went on to compare the need for scholarships for academic achievers to that of college athletes.
“We need to reward education as we do athletics,” said Whipple. “If someone makes a four or five in AP, or is a National Merit Scholar, we need to find the money to help those kids.”
Phil Baldwin of Southern Bancorp pointed out the need for education for building successful lives.
“Education is the essential key to the future,” said Baldwin. “Without education there is very little opportunity.”
Baldwin ended by stating the facts simply to the students of Arkadelphia.
“You all… can go to college.”
After comments from Gov. Mike Beebe, a video message, available for viewing on the Arkadelphia Promise website, from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was presented.
“Now students will have a rare opportunity to chase passions and dreams without debt,” said Duncan. “You have inspired generations of young people to imagine different futures for themselves.”
Duncan also said that while Arkadelphia might have been nearly destroyed by a tornado over a decade ago, but “you built it stronger.”
The school choirs then sang special pieces patriotically paying tribute to Arkansas and America.
Dr. Lewis Shepherd, pastor at Greater Pleasant Hills Baptist Church, closed the ceremonies with a charge for the entire community. He led each group in the community, from the students to the parents to the faculty to the citizens, in a pledge to promise to support the city’s young people in attaining college degrees.
He closed by bringing it back to Arkadelphia.
“It has been and will always be, a great place to call home,” said Shepherd.
For more information about the Arkadelphia Promise, visit the website at www.arkadelphiapromise.com.