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Linden High School’s million-dollar class

Linden High School may be a part of the smallest school district in the state of Alabama, but its Class of 2009 made a big statement, as 40 of its 53 members left campus with a total of more than $1 million in scholarship funds.

“We had 71 scholarships totaling $1.1 million,” said LHS counselor Scott Jones. “We had 12 from Alabama A&M, eight from Alabama State and eight from Miles College. Shelton State had 17.

“The University of West Alabama started something new this year called a fellowship. We put 12 into the fellowship, but we also got four leadership scholarships.”

Jones said that of the 13 students who did not receive a scholarship could receive assistance through the Alabama Rehabilitation Services.

“They help us out a lot,” Jones said. “At least six of those 13 are being serviced by Rehab, so if they don’t go to college, Rehab pays for them to go to college.”

Jones has made several contacts across the state through his position with the school, and credits the school system’s small size in being able to help its graduates get scholarships.

“I know all of my seniors,” he said. “I know their families, and I know their situations. I know where they want to go, and I know what they can do and can’t do.”

Jones also looks for other lesser-known ways of getting into a scholarship program.

“One of the best things I’d love to see my children get involved with is a forestry scholarship,” he said. “Automatically, people think you need to run out into the forest and play with trees, but there are two different routes to go. You could be a scientist or you could be a forester.

“If you get that scholarship, you are automatically assigned to the U.S. Forestry Service. You’ve got a job.”

The teachers guide the students to doing what it takes to earn free money for college.

“We make it mandatory to write an essay about what their educational goals are,” Jones said. “Then, we put it on a flash drive, and they have that essay done. Just about every college is going to ask about that essay. The English department makes it a part of their everyday work.”

The students themselves also put in the work to get scholarship funds, and are starting to make it a competition. The Class of 2008 earned $978,000 in scholarships with fewer students. The Class of 2009 was able to push into seven digits.

“It’s a group effort,” Jones said. “Everyone is involved. We do a lot of preparation for the ACT, and this school is an ACT test site. We want our students to get the best scores possible and to excel. The parents have gotten involved with us.”

“It’s outstanding,” said LHS principal Tim Thurman. “When you’ve got 75 percent of a class getting some form of scholarship — I think that speaks for itself.”