Loudon County still needs 38 volunteer tnAchieves mentors to help students move toward a post-secondary education.
The program is for all students who apply for Tennessee Promise, which offers the first two years of college free at a state community college.
Mentors spend one hour per month helping students as they transition from high school to college.
Graham Thomas, tnAchieves deputy director of partnerships, said mentors remind students of important deadlines, serve as a trusted resource and encourage them to “reach their full potential,” which he finds the most important.
“Many students that use TN Promise will be the first in their family to attend college,” Graham said in an email correspondence. “The financial aspect of TN Promise is important but we also know many barriers exist for students. Mentors work to alleviate those barriers and assist students on their post-secondary journey.”
There are 37 mentors registered in the county, with 18 for Loudon County Schools — 11 at Loudon High School and seven at Greenback School — and 19 for Lenoir City Schools.
Students are urged to apply for Tennessee Promise even if taking a two-year route isn’t their first choice.
“For the folks that are going to naturally go toward a two-year institution, possibly Roane State ... that’s their primary plan for a lot of them, that’s fine,” Sean Royston, Advise TN counselor for LCHS, said. “For the folks that are planning on doing a four-year route, ... this is their backup plan. For the folks that are going to the military, this might be their backup plan. Even folks who know they are going to do some kind of internship or apprenticeship in a trade, I often recommend they do this as a backup plan as well.”
And that’s where mentors help.
“tnAchieves does a great job making sure mentors are prepared and they do a great job being in touch,” Heather Waldron, LHS junior and senior counselor, said. “Mentors get weekly emails on what the next steps are. So they always have something laid out so if I don’t have a reason I can check my Monday email and know, ‘OK, this is what my kids’ deadline is, this is what I need to be in touch with them about’.”
Royston and Waldron have helped students prepare for Tennessee Promise, with the application deadline approached Nov. 1. LCHS has about 195 signed up, while LHS has about 140. Royston and Waldron anticipate more will sign up after fall break.
Thomas said 503 local seniors applied for Tennessee Promise last year.
Mentors will meet with students at LCHS on March 4. Greenback School students and private/home-schooled students also meet with mentors the same day, with private and home-school students gathering at LCHS. LHS students will meet March 26. Times vary with each meeting.
“They introduce the mentors to students ahead of time in part because they want to make sure that they have an opportunity for the parents to know that that’s a legitimate person, and that’s also why parents are invited to that meeting on the fourth,” Royston said. “Make sure that, one, they understand what’s going on with Tennessee Promise and, two, they get to meet that mentor if they would like.”
Royston is entering his fourth year as a mentor. Waldron was involved four years, but is taking a break.
“It’s really such a small commitment that makes such a big impact because you’re really committing to a one-hour meeting in March, a one-hour training and texting your kids or emailing or reminding or whatever, however you choose to communicate with them,” Waldron said.