New non-college scholarship to award 3 Dadeville students $1,000, no strings attached

A Lake Martin couple is piloting an unusual high school scholarship program this year, not for college-bound seniors, but incoming 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders.

Dadeville High School students who maintain a certain GPA, do something for the community over the summer and write an essay about it are eligible to apply for one of three $1,000 scholarships. One recipient per grade level will be selected to spend it however they please.


"It's an experiment," said Aleem Gillani, retired SunTrust Banks CFO, who moved to the Dadeville area from Atlanta a couple of years ago with his wife Cindy.


Pretty soon upon arrival, the pair sought ways to help their new home county, with a particular focus on education and literacy.

Rather than handing out blank checks, however, Gillani is taking a more targeted approach.

"My original plan was to do a financial literacy course," he said. "Kids graduate high school, they go to college and they never figure out how to handle money. There's no course for that."


Failing to get any interest, however, Gillani sat down with the Tallapoosa County Schools administration to see what other problems needed addressing. 

A big one was the graduation rate. Of the 195 students across Tallapoosa County Schools who entered ninth grade in 2016, 20 students — just over 10% — did not graduate last year. Dadeville High School, which has the lowest graduation rate in the county, saw 16% of that cohort not get their diplomas last year (albeit a few percentage points higher than 2019, before the pandemic).

"The problem that Dadeville High School has is they have kids who go and work in the summer and then they don't come back in the fall," Gillani said. "We wanted to encourage kids to stay in school through the entire time. And the problem is if they're making money, they don't come back to school."

Despite the $173-per-week premium earned by high school grads without college, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some students figure they could make more in the short term by dropping out. Gillani's proposed solution is a scholarship not for tuition aid (seeing as, at a public high school, there is none) but as something to make finishing high school financially worth their while. As far as he knows, it's the only scholarship of its kind, hence the experiment. 

"Will it work?" Gillani said. "Will it change the graduation rate; will it have some kind of effect? Are we focusing on the right things when we focus on GPA and community service?"

To answer those questions, the Gillani Family Foundation scholarship is endowed for three years, at which point they'll assess its progress. Despite setting up the fund last year, this school year will be the first year it's disbursed with the chaos of returning to class last fall. Dadeville High School principal Chris Hand said students have until September to apply.

"Actually we just had one turned in today that I gave to our new counselor," he said Thursday.