Decatur students get help finding and applying for scholarships

·4 min read

Feb. 13—The Decatur school system has a new initiative to increase students' awareness of scholarship opportunities and help them apply.

Excel Center Assistant Principal Mary Ann Hotaling has created a website listing all available local and state scholarships for students. She also has assembled a team to assist students in the scholarship process.

Hotaling said there are many scholarship opportunities of which parents and students are unaware of because they are not on a state or national level.

"As parents and as a society, we get so caught up on thinking that if our kids are not valedictorians or super athletes, then there aren't any scholarship opportunities," Hotaling said. "That is not true."

Hotaling said she approached Decatur City Schools Superintendent Michael Douglas last fall and told him of her plans for the scholarship initiative and giving students additional directions on how to apply for scholarships.

"Our senior guidance counselors are so extremely busy that they don't have the time to do that and I'm willing to," Hotaling said.

When Hotaling first started building her webpage, she would research every scholarship opportunity she could find throughout the community and state and report it back to the page.

"Any (scholarship opportunity) I could find, whether it be on social media or The Decatur Daily, I would list it on the website," Hotaling said.

Hotaling recruited a team this school year to help edit application essays and build college portfolios for students.

"I recruited about a dozen people in the north Alabama area who are mostly retired Army officers who work at Redstone Arsenal," said Hotaling, a former captain in the Army and Ms. Veteran America in 2020-21. "I send the (scholarship application essays) out to these volunteers and they edit them."

Hotaling said her team members requested their identities be anonymous.

"My team is honest because they don't know the student. None of them are from Decatur so they don't know any of the last names and they could really give it an honest assessment," Hotaling said. "They'll edit them and send them back to me, and then I give it back to the student to add to their application."

Hotaling's team does not stop at editing application essays and building college portfolios.

"If a student has a scholarship interview, we will do a dress rehearsal of interviews with them," Hotaling said. "We've done that already this year. We want students to be successful going in to talk to that scholarship committee."

If a student would like to have their application essay edited, Hotaling said, they need to email their essay to her at maryann.hotaling@dcs.k12.al.us and she will send it to her team to edit.

Anita Clarke, secondary curriculum and instruction supervisor, said any platform that exposes students to scholarship opportunities is a plus in the Decatur school system.

"(Hotaling) has been instrumental in making sure that our kids have every opportunity to earn funding to cover the costs of their schooling," Clarke said.

From October through December, Clarke has hosted several events called "FAFSA Night" at Austin High to help Decatur students and parents apply for federal aid for college.

"We felt like having a parent night in our district would put us in a position to educate our parents on the available funds that their child could earn," Clarke said. "We had guests come in from local colleges that spoke with parents and students about financial opportunities that their institutions provided."

Clarke said she expects more scholarships to be awarded to Decatur students this school year and in the future because of the many scholarship opportunities that Hotaling has helped them discover.

The internet listing all available scholarships is accessible by clicking the scholarship button on the Decatur City Schools website, dcs.edu.

Hotaling said there are currently over 50 scholarships listed on the website ranging from $500 to $1,000 and consist of state, local, and regional scholarships.

Hotaling said that they have assisted 82 students this school year in editing application essays, creating college portfolios, and helping them to complete the applications themselves.

wesley.tomlinson@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438.