Promise Delivered: New scholarship initiative invests in the futures of Rusk graduates

Jul 23, 2014 by

Rusk High School senior Bre’Ann Higgins almost didn’t come to Tyler Junior College at all.

“My mom went to school here, so of course I thought I should go someplace else,” she said, admitting she had all but packed her bags for another college farther from home.

Then, along came the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise.

“That changed the course of everything,” she said.

Established in February, the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise is one of only 23 Promise programs in the United States and the first such initiative in Texas.

The program provides Rusk graduates with $4,000 per year for two years at TJC. In addition to graduating in the top half of their class with a minimum 2.5 GPA, qualifying students must also reside in Rusk ISD and must have attended Rusk High School for grades 11 and 12.

Funded by gifts and pledges from Citizens 1st Bank, The James I. Perkins Family Foundation and others, the program is a partnership between Citizens 1st Bank, The Perkins Family Foundation, TJC, the TJC Foundation and Rusk ISD.

“I’ve lived in Rusk all my life,” Higgins said, “and I’ve loved growing up in such a tight-knit community. The fact that the Perkins family, TJC and my high school have joined together to do this has been such a blessing.

Bre’Ann Higgins is the first RHS student to accept the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise scholarship. She will enter TJC this fall and major in theater.

Bre’Ann Higgins is the first RHS student to accept the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise scholarship. She will enter TJC this fall and major in theater.

“When you know someone cares and wants to see you do better for yourself, it’s very motivating.”

Motivation has never been much of a problem for Higgins. In addition to her primary passion for theater, she plays flute in the band, is a twirler, plays softball, is co-captain on the archery team and takes karate.

“I’ve been a little busy,” she laughs. “Throughout my life, I’ve always done about 10 activities at a time; but when I get to TJC in the fall, I plan to zero in on my major, which is theater arts.”

The TJC theater program also became a big draw for Higgins, who admits she was unfamiliar with TJC’s reputation as a strong training ground for theater majors.

“When I first heard about the Rusk Promise, I thought, ‘OK, let me go look at their theater department.’”

So, she bought a ticket to the TJC spring musical, Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.”

“I was completely blown away,” she said, “and I said right then, ‘This is a blessing. This is a sign from God. I have to be here.’”

The Promise begins

The Rusk TJC Citizens Promise is expected to fill a need for scores of Rusk students who might not have otherwise found their way to TJC.

“It’s off to a roaring start,” TJC President Dr. Mike Metke said during an announcement ceremony at Rusk High School in April. “What was once an idea is now a reality that will have a lasting impact on the lives of Rusk students and their families for years to come.”

It’s also an investment by the Perkins family back into the Rusk community itself.

James I. Perkins, Citizens 1st Bank president and chairman of the board, is a Rusk native who has always kept his roots planted firmly in his hometown.

“Mr. Perkins, Mrs. Perkins and their kids have a special place in their hearts for their hometown; and that is a very powerful motivator for anyone,” said Dr. Scott Davis, Rusk ISD superintendent. “When you look at the Perkins family and their foundation, one of the things that comes to mind is the saying, ‘To whom much is given, much will be required.’

“The Perkins family is living proof and really serves as an encouragement to me and to others to take what they have been given and to invest that in the future and in leaving a legacy beyond just their lives and their time on this earth.”

Studies of similar Promise programs in other parts of the nation have shown marked improvement in schools, including increased enrollment and retention, higher test scores and graduation rates, and have created a college-going culture among students, with more enrolling in college after high school.

The program’s success also stands to extend to the community at large, with an economic boom created by more families relocating to Promise communities.

Davis said, “To me, this entire picture is one of such encouragement and hope, because of someone who has worked for what he has and who loves where he is from. Mr. Perkins obviously appreciates that legacy and seeks to invest that back into the community that he and his family know is not sitting idly by.

“Had the school district not been pushing for excellence in all these different areas all these years, I’m afraid one of the pieces would be missing for this Promise program to have the impact that it will. Because we have all been working toward excellence, we are now at a point where we’ve converged.

“I think the next generation of students in Rusk will see huge benefits from what has been started here today.”

For more information on the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise, go to tjc.edu/ruskpromise.

Elise Mullinix is TJC editorial manager.

TJC Board President John Hills (far right) presents an official resolution to the Perkins family during the announcement of the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise program at the TJC Board of Trustees’  February meeting. Pictured, from left: Margaret Perkins, Laura Perkins Fonville, James I. Perkins, TJC President Dr. Mike Metke  and Hills.

TJC Board President John Hills (far right) presents an official resolution to the Perkins family during the announcement of the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise program at the TJC Board of Trustees’ February meeting. Pictured, from left: Margaret Perkins, Laura Perkins Fonville, James I. Perkins, TJC President Dr. Mike Metke
and Hills.

 


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Features, Spring/Summer 2014

About the author

Elise Mullinix is Tyler Junior College's Editorial Manager. She can be reached at 903-510-2370 or at emul2@tjc.edu.