The Gift of a Promise

In November of 2005, a group of anonymous donors in Kalamazoo, Michigan set out to change the fate of their city through a scholarship program. The Kalamazoo Promise is now in its 10th year of existence. The Kalamazoo Promise is a pledge by a group of individuals to pay up to 100 percent of tuition for graduates of Kalamazoo, Michigan’s public high schools, as long as the student attends one of Michigan‘s state colleges or universities. In order to receive the full scholarship amount, students are required to attend Kalamazoo’s public schools since kindergarten. Astonished by the positive results yielded by The Kalamazoo Promise, a group of local individuals have created their own version of this, the Jacksonville Promise.

Since the creation of the Kalamazoo Promise, the public school district has experienced a 10% enrollment increase, which has led to an influx of federal funds for the school district. With the prospect of having their children’s education being paid for, many families have relocated from around the nation to the city of Kalamazoo. The Kalamazoo Promise is also being attributed to a dramatic increase in the student’s academic performance starting as early as the third grade. Dr. Chuck Sheaff, Jacksonville Promise Board President, explained this phenomenon.

Kids, often as early as 1st grade, are taught by their parents that they are or are not going to college. Either they can or cannot afford it. So even as early as grade school, kids are not interested in academics if academics are not going to lead to a better way of life for them.” Sheaff continued. “But, if they know that they can go to college now, you see an improvement in grades at a very early age.”

Hoping for similar results, a group of volunteers leading the Jacksonville Promise are currently raising funds to provide several meaningful scholarships beginning with the class of 2016. Unlike Kalamazoo, the group is unable to provide scholarships to all qualifying students during its inaugural year. However, they aim to increase the number of scholarships available in future years, and consequently impact the city of Jacksonville.

Whenever you get the population of a town to start growing, you then get an increase in the need for new housing, increase in the value of property as the housing market becomes more restricted, property taxes go up, you attract industry, and it becomes a positive spiral that increases the economics in the community. The Jacksonville promise is our attempt to energize our school system and local economy,” said Sheaff.

In order to qualify for the scholarship, students must live in the District 117 corporate limits and be a graduate of Illinois School for the Deaf, Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, Jacksonville High School, or Westfair Christian Academy. Students must also have a cumulative 2.0 grade point average and a 95 percent attendance record while in high school. Recipients of the scholarship must be admitted to and attend one of Jacksonville’s three local colleges: Lincoln Land Community College, MacMurray College, and Illinois College. In order to apply for the scholarship, students must fill out a FAFSA form.

This is not determined by highest GPA, and not determined by writing an essay; it’s going to be a place based scholarship. We’ll be using the FAFSA form to help the selection committee figure out who needs it the most,” explained Sheaff.

More information on the Jacksonville Promise can be found at http://jacksonvillepromis.wix.com/fundraising. To apply for the scholarship or donate to the program, individuals are encouraged to email jacksonvillepromise@gmail.com.

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