ROSSVILLE — Trula Robinette, lover of cheerleading, and Landon Faulk, lover of Transformers and Godzilla and Pokemon, each earned $10,000 this week.
Their winnings might balloon to $20,000. Or, if they're really lucky, they'll hit $30,000.
Faulk and Robinette became the first Catoosa County Schools students to win REACH Georgia scholarships, during a Monday afternoon ceremony at Lakeview Middle School. The program targets students who qualify for free and reduced lunches; its administrators give preference to future first-generation college students.
Faulk, Robinette and about 498 other eighth-graders across the state will sign contracts this week with the scholarship program, promising to keep their GPAs above 2.5 throughout high school. They also need to stay drug, crime and "behavior issue" free, and meet monthly with an academic coach who monitors whether they are staying on track.
In exchange, they will receive about $10,000 over four years to attend one of Georgia's 60 public and private colleges and technical schools. The public colleges will offer a matching grant, boosting the total scholarship to $20,000. And some of the bigger schools — such as the University of Georgia, Georgia State and Georgia Tech — will "double match" the scholarships, putting the total value at $30,000.
The daughter of a UPS package handler and a Cracker Barrel employee, Robinette said some of the school's staff encouraged her to apply for the scholarship about a month ago. She answered some essay questions about what the money would mean for her and what she wants to do in the future. Then, on Monday afternoon, someone on the intercom buzzed into her pre-algebra class and told her she was needed in the principal's office.
The announcement was met with the typical jeers of classmates, insisting she must be in trouble. Robinette didn't necessarily believe them — but still.
Maybe her pink-and-white T-shirt was out of compliance with the dress code. And she kept some lunch money in a bag in a coach's office. Maybe someone saw her go in there without permission.
In the principal's office, she waited with Faulk and a teacher, unsure of what was happening. Someone on the intercom called for the cheerleading squad to meet in the gym. A member of the team, Robinette asked if she should go. The teacher told her to wait.
Finally, the teacher told her and Faulk to go to the gym. When they opened the door, they found the cheerleaders lined up in the lobby, waving them in. They reached the basketball court, and the whole school was waiting for them, students overflowing the bleachers, teachers lining the sides, the band playing a warrior chant, the LaFayette-Fort Oglethorpe High School JROTC marching with flags. The school board, the Fort Oglethorpe mayor and a couple of Catoosa County commissioners cheered them on.
Faulk walked in waving his right arm in a tomahawk-chop in unison with the band. Robinette, 13, smiled nervously.
"Oh my gosh," she said. "What have I done?"
She realized she had won the scholarship, because she knew Faulk had also applied. She was happy. Then she was nervous. She wondered if she was going to have to give a speech. Her legs shook.
"I'll be fine," she said. "This is fine. Oh buddy."
In the end, the adults didn't make Robinette or Faulk speak. Mayor Earl Gray, Food City manager Bill Abline, Assistant Superintendent Kim Nichols and REACH Georgia Business Development Consultant Sara Neeley handled the microphone.
"It rocks in here," Neeley told the students. "I get to travel all over the state, and this is by far the best ceremony."
Behind the students, Chris Faulk applauded in his Ringgold police uniform. He said his son, Landon Faulk, is the oldest of nine children. His role within the family has instilled in him a sense of responsibility. Though only in eighth grade, Landon Faulk plays trombone in the high school band, sweating through this summer in preparation.
Last month, he volunteered at Ironman Chattanooga with his father, the two Faulks blocking off streets for the competitors from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a Sunday. He likes social studies and English, and he said he hopes to be an anesthesiologist.
"He's always been really kind of a leader since he was a baby, since he was a little boy," Chris Faulk said. "He's always been the kind of kid to tell his brothers, 'No, we shouldn't be doing that.' Taking it on himself to do something, he's just a really responsible leader."
REACH Georgia launched in 2012 and is funded through a nonprofit foundation. The program also looks for private donors in different communities. Here, the Partnership 2000 Steering Committee will provide about $3,500 of the $10,000 scholarship, beginning next year. (REACH Georgia is fully funding the first batch of scholars.)
In addition to Faulk and Robinette, a total of three students at Heritage and Ringgold middle schools will earn the scholarship this week. Their schools are holding pep rallies Wednesday.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.