Knocked Down, Then Lifted Up

Apr. 5, 2015

A photograph of Knocked Down, Then Lifted Up

Mentors help students make college dream a reality

When Lookout Valley football player Peyton Cook took a helmet to his leg, it moved his kneecap from the front to the side. The extensive treatments for the injury were painful, but Peyton found the positive: he was fascinated by the process, and decided he wanted to become a physical therapist.

Thanks to Tennessee Promise and his volunteer mentor, Amy Hicks, Peyton will be working toward making his dream a reality at Chattanooga State Community College this fall.

In fact, Hicks worked with a number of Peyton’s classmates looking to start their college careers, too.

“Having a small group to talk to has been helpful,” Peyton said.

“She has been like a mother to us. She knows a lot more about college life than we do.”

Hicks said she was encouraged as a young person to pursue higher education and wanted to help others in the same way.

“My dad was a high school graduate, and my mom got her GED later in life,” says Hicks, who works in care management for BlueCross.

“They told me from an early age that education is important.”

Amy Hicks and Jordan Slay serve as mentors through tnAchieves.

Tens of thousands of students get tuition, guidance

Tennessee Promise, a program championed by Gov. Bill Haslam, offers two years of tuition-free community or technical college beginning with 2015 high school graduates.

tnAchieves mentors support the initiative by helping high school seniors navigate the college admissions process, and ensure they complete all program requirements needed to receive the scholarship.

There were almost 33,000 students participating in the program this year.

Volunteering as a mentor takes just 10-15 hours over the course of an entire year, but it can mean a lifetime of new opportunities for high school students. Thomas said that in the second year of the program, it’s expected 65,000 students will participate, so the number of mentors will need to increase from 2,500 to 9,000-plus.

While the funding provided by Tennessee Promise is critical to increasing college access, history confirms that working with and being supported by an adult mentor greatly enhances a student’s likelihood of success.

Mentors primarily serve first-generation students and increase the likelihood they’ll go on to earn college degrees.

Jordan Slay, a Nashville-based BlueCross account executive, said a mentor in a similar program helped him when he was in high school, so he wanted to do the same for others. He is currently mentoring six students at Smyrna High School.

“I’ve seen that so many high school seniors don’t get the kind of help that I did,” Slay says.

“I felt like this is an excellent way to get involved and give back so they don’t go into college totally lost.”

Want to learn more about keeping kids focused? Explore GoNoodle.

Photos by Sergio Plecas.