RUMFORD — Twenty-six elementary school students were presented $100 scholarships from the Maine College Circle program Thursday night in front of family members and educators at Black Mountain lodge.

The money is meant to encourage the young students to think about education beyond high school.

Each recipient was called to the front of the room, where Maine College Circle founder Bob Stuart read about their interests, goals and tentative college futures. The winners and about 75 others wrote essays in competition for the $100 scholarships, T-shirts, VIP badges and other gifts.

Alexis Jasper, a third-grader at Hartford-Sumner Elementary School, has proven to be a good citizen in all ways, Stuart said.

“She wants to be a veterinarian and go to the University of Maine or the University of Maine at Augusta,” he said.

Katy Shackley, a fourth-grader at Rumford Elementary School, wants to be a world activist.

“With Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela gone, this world needs someone like Katy,” said Stuart.

Aspiring teacher Abby Stevens, a fourth-grader at Dirigo Elementary School in Dixfield, spent three weeks working on her essay, Stuart said.

“We liked her effort,” he said.

Meroby Elementary School third-grader Justice Gendron wants to be a professional gymnast, while Hartford-Sumner Elementary School student Mason Hatch wants to study rocks.

Megan Turcotte, a sixth-grader at Hartford-Sumner Elementary, said she has wanted to be a teacher since she was 2 years old. She taught her younger cousins, and wants to go to the University of Maine at Farmington when the time comes, she said.

“I feel so optimistic and see so much potential” at scholarship presentations, Stuart said. He visits at least 50 school districts each year to encourage children to start  thinking about a career early. He said he was a high school teacher and learned that sometimes waiting until then is too late for many students.

Abbey Therriault’s father, Phil, said he was proud of his third-grade daughter, who wants to be a chef. She baked some of the sweets served following the ceremony.

“I know she wants to learn, ever since she was 2 years old,” he said.

Jeremy Jasper, Alexis’ father, also expressed pride in his daughter.

“She took the time and effort to do her essay,” he said.

Encouraging young students to think about their lives beyond high school is important to their success and is one reason the Western Foothills Kids Association has invited Stuart to RSU 10 schools for the past three years, association Director Barbara Radmore said.

That’s also why Dead River Chief Executive Officer Bob Moore, Mexico residents Randy Judkins and John Ferland, and Rumford Selectman Jolene Lovejoy attended to honor the students.

“There was a day when a high school diploma could get you a good job with benefits,” Moore said. “That’s no more. You must go past high school.”

RSU 10 Superintendent Craig King said the event plants a seed and a goal into children.

“You’ll know when you’re 18 you’re going to college because you have that goal and that certificate,” he said.

Several businesses, individuals and Rumford Elementary School teachers contributed to the scholarship fund.

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