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The El Dorado Promise Gains National Spotlight, While Changing Lives

The Program, featured in the magazine- American Way, promises full tuition for any El Dorado High School Student, accepted into a 2-year or 4-year college or university.

EL DORADO, AR. - When the El Dorado Promise was announced seven years ago in front of a packed auditorium, it almost seemed like a dream for those in attendance.

“There were tears, there was joy, there was shouts, there were probably a few phone calls made, that shouldn’t have been made by students,” said Director Sylvia Thompson.  She says she wasn’t surprised when the Program was recently featured in an article for the American Airlines in-flight magazine, American Way.

“We’ve really had very good success with our program. We’ve sent over 1,400 El Dorado High School students to college.”

The 10-year, $50 million dollar endowment from Murphy Oil awards tuition based on how long a student’s been enrolled in the district. One student could receive 100%, while another receives 75%. 

“It’s based on the most expensive public school in Arkansas,” adds Thompson.  “And you can take that amount to any public or private two-year or four-year institution in the United States.”  She says that her office speaks to each kindergarten class to inform them they’ll have a chance at going to college.  The program has significantly reduced the dropout rate, while steadying enrollment numbers in the district.

Claire Barnhouse received the promise as a student.  She’s now a teacher in the NewTech program.

“It was really exciting because I have a younger brother and it was a huge relief to know that both, me and my brother could go to college no matter what scholarships I received,” said Barnhouse.

During its inception, one hope was for students like Claire to come back to fuel El Dorado’s economy.   She didn’t hesitate to return to her old stomping grounds.

“I just think it’s really powerful to be in a community that says ‘we believe in our youth, we believe in you whether you come back or not’”, she adds. ”So I just wanted to come back and be part of that culture, and part of this great high school”.

In 2014, students like junior - Baylee Holt are already planning their futures.

“I want to be a pediatric nurse, and work on the med-flight at the Arkansas children’s hospital.”  Thanks to the El Dorado Promise, she’s one step closer to fulfilling that dream.

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