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OBA Pilot Project to Reach Out to Traditionally Under Represented Student Populations

By Lori Rasmussen



“Who wants to be a millionaire?” is the theme of a brand new OBA outreach effort targeting students likely to have trouble paying for college. The theme highlights the statistic showing workers with a college degree make on average up to $1 million more in their lifetimes than those with a high school- only education. The project consists of concentrated efforts to promote the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program, which offers free college tuition to qualifying students.

The promotion project was conceived by Supreme Court Justice Tom Colbert, and its development began under 2014 OBA President Renée DeMoss. 2015 President David Poarch has identified it as one of his top agenda items during his leadership year.

“Fostering higher education among our state’s citizens is an important mission for the bar,” said Mr. Poarch. “An educated populace is more likely to understand our system of government, including its three distinct branches. Our fair and impartial judicial system depends on the preservation of an independent third branch and on citizens who grasp its importance.”

The Oklahoma’s Promise program is administered by the state Regents for Higher Education. Requirements are straightforward: A student’s family income may not exceed $50,000 per year. Students must enroll in eighth, ninth or 10th grade and must maintain a 2.5 GPA. They must also stay out of trouble and take the required college prep classes.

The bar’s pilot project will provide detailed information about Oklahoma’s Promise to targeted students. Four schools with low participation in Oklahoma’s Promise were identified and selected as the sites for school assemblies where the benefits and requirements of Oklahoma’s Promise will be explained. The OBA has partnered with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sonic Corp. to expand the project’s appeal. Students who attend the assemblies will receive an officially licensed OKC Thunder backpack. The backpacks will be filled with information for the parents along with a program application. Once a student has signed up, his or her family will receive a $20 Sonic gift card.

“We are also partnering with our county bar associations to make this program a success,” said Mr. Poarch. “Completing necessary paperwork and providing tax information can often be a daunting challenge for families. Volunteers from the local bars will be on hand during parents’ nights to assist with the process. Lawyer participation will ensure that these kids get enrolled in the program and get on track for education and career success.”

Assemblies are currently scheduled at Clinton Middle School, Seminole Middle School and Douglass Mid-High in Oklahoma City. A date will be set soon for a presentation at Tulsa Central Junior High School. Bar leaders and school personnel will be making presentations to students; volunteer lawyers will be needed to work with parents to assist with signup.

Though the project is currently planned for just four cities, its success will determine whether it should be expanded statewide. Because the bulk of the funds to implement the project are coming from corporate donations, the bar’s financial commitment is low — but huge dividends could result.

“When students complete college, they are far less likely to be involved in drugs or crime,” said Mr. Poarch. “They are far more likely to raise their families in healthy environments. They get involved in their community. Everyone wins.”

Ms. Rasmussen is OBA assistant communications director.

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

Volunteer lawyers will be needed to assist parents with sign up at the following dates and locations:

Feb. 17 from 4-7 p.m. at Clinton Middle School; contact Luke Adams, 580-323-3964.

March 3 from 5:30-8 p.m. at Douglass Mid-High; contact Debbie Gorden, executive director, Oklahoma County Bar Association, 405-236-8421.

March 9 from 4-7 p.m. at Seminole Middle School; contact  “Jack” John Edward Cadenhead, 405-382-6341.

April 9 from 6 – 8 p.m. at Tulsa Central Junior High School – contact Kevin Cousins, executive director, Tulsa County Bar Association, 918-584-5243.

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