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Miss America to speak at 11th annual Academic Signing

Posted on April 24, 2017

Published by El Dorado News Times

EL DORADO — Miss America 2017 Savvy Shields of Arkansas, will be the guest speaker for the 11th Annual Academic Signing for recipients of the El Dorado Promise Scholarship at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the El Dorado High School Wildcat Arena. The El Dorado Promise is a $50 million scholarship gift for graduates of EHS, announced in 2007 and funded by Murphy Oil Corp.

The signing day will celebrate approximately 300 graduating seniors receiving El Dorado Promise scholarships. Also present will be Claiborne Deming, Murphy Oil Corp. chairman of the board; Roger Jenkins, Murphy Oil chief executive officer; El Dorado Mayor Frank Hash; El Dorado School District Superintendent Jim Tucker; EHS Principal Alva Reibe and El Dorado Promise Director Sylvia Thompson.

“In El Dorado, we are fortunate to have a previous Miss America from our city,” Reibe said. Former Miss America 1964, Donna Axum Whitworth of El Dorado, was Arkansas’ first winner. A total of three Miss Americas have come from the state. “We welcome Miss Shields and greatly appreciate her organization’s support for education.”

In September, Savannah (Savvy) Shields from Fayetteville was crowned Miss America 2017. By winning state and national titles, she received $90,000 in scholarships, to further her education with the University of Arkansas. With the Miss America organization, she is traveling the country on a year of service for her platform causes: encouraging young people in education, the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the United Service Organizations – visiting military troops and veterans, and “Eat Better, Live Better,” which aims for positive lifestyle change through nutrition.

In El Dorado, 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the El Dorado Promise and since its inception, the Promise has provided funding to 2,025 EHS graduates, attending 129 colleges and universities, in 29 different states.

“Murphy Oil Corporation is proud to offer the El Dorado Promise to students in the El Dorado School District,” said Jenkins. “It was great to celebrate the milestone anniversary of the program this year and see the impact that the Promise has on our community.”

The Promise reaches beyond the boundaries of economic need and academic merit to pay up to 100 percent of college tuition and mandatory fees. It is for all students graduating from EHS who have been El Dorado Public School students since at least the ninth grade.

“The Promise opens up endless opportunities. It gives our graduates the opportunity to pursue whatever dreams they might have,” Tucker said. “We are so thankful to Murphy Oil Corporation. We also appreciate the Miss America Organization, which emphasizes reaching goals through education and scholarships.”

Over 84 percent of last year’s Promise scholars are attending college, Thompson, said. This percentage is significantly higher than both the current Arkansas college-going rate, at 50.1 percent and the national rate, at 65.9 percent, according to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

Thompson said that the Promise program is one in which higher education has become a possibility for every student. Beginning in kindergarten, ESD students receive basic information about college and where it can take them. “From a young age in El Dorado, children learn about college. Parents also talk to them about where they will go, not if they are going,” she added.

Alice Mahony, vice-president and co-founder of the El Dorado Education Foundation, said Promise graduates are opting to return to the community. “In fact, 10 graduates have chosen to give back by becoming teachers in the El Dorado district,” she said. Other El Dorado Promise Scholar professions include accounting, banking, college administration, engineering, hospitality, law and media. “When our students graduate from college and come home, we couldn’t be more pleased.”

In academics at EHS, dramatic increases continue to be seen in district Advanced Placement course offerings and enrollment. Bonnie Haynie, director of professional development/federal programs for the ESD, said that over the past 10 years of the Promise, AP enrollment has increased 164 percent. This spring, well over 400 students will take more than 900 AP exams, a new school district record. She added, “We are continuing to meet students’ academic challenges to better prepare them to implement the Promise.”

The El Dorado Promise also has been featured in national and international media coverage, and the program will be honored at the 2017 national PromiseNet conference. To read more about the impact the Promise has had and continues to have on El Dorado Public Schools, its students and families, the city of El Dorado, and south Arkansas, go to:

Promise students can attend any accredited two or four-year college or university in the United States. The EHS Class of 2017 will sign letters of intent for 29 separate institutions. Graduates joining the military begin scholarships after completing tours of duty, Thompson said.

EHS students will be attending the following in-state colleges and universities: Arkansas State University, Harding University, Henderson State University, Hendrix College, Northwest Arkansas Community College, Ouachita Baptist University, South Arkansas Community College, Southern Arkansas University, Southern Arkansas University – Tech, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Arkansas at Monticello, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and University of Central Arkansas.

Out-of-state colleges and universities that El Dorado Promise students plan to attend this year are: Augsburg College (Minnesota), Belhaven University (Mississippi), Clemson University (South Carolina), Grambling State University, Itawamba Community College (Mississippi), Louisiana State University, Louisiana Tech University, Middle Tennessee State University, Palm Beach State College (Florida), Texas A&M University – Texarkana, University of Louisiana at Monroe, University of Mississippi, University of South Carolina, University of Texas at Dallas and Vanderbilt University.

Academic Signing Day’s title sponsor is First Financial Bank. The event is a partnership of the El Dorado Education Foundation, El Dorado School District, Murphy Oil Corp. and the El Dorado Promise. Other sponsors are: the El Dorado News-Times and Kim Smith Photography. Academic Signing Day committee members are: co-chairs Mahony and Haynie, Beth Weldon, Tucker, Reibe, Scott Reed, Katie Sandifer, Lila Phillips, Thompson, and Allison Parker.

For further information about Academic Signing Day, contact EDEF:, or (870) 862-0962.