"We are here to thank your teachers, administrators, town and school district for embracing public education and providing an opportunity that you did not previously have," said Nixon. "We are also here to highlight the A+ program, which is unique to Missouri.
"If you keep your attendance up, maintain a B average and meet the other requirements of A+, you can earn two years of free tuition to a technical school or college in Missouri," said Nixon.
A+ students must meet academic achievement, conduct and attendance requirements and perform 50 hours of tutoring or mentoring services in order to earn a scholarship to cover the cost of tuition and academic fees.
"Right now, student loan debt in our country is more than credit card debt," said Nixon. "Instead of graduating from college, getting a good job and purchasing a car or a house, students are paying student loans. This slows the economy.
"We want you to go to school, get a good job and buy things or get more education, which keeps our economy moving forward," said Nixon. "The more education you have the more opportunities you have."
Over the last 14 years, nearly 125,000 Missouri students have qualified for A+ scholarships, and more than 50,000 students have used the financial incentives for at least one semester of post-secondary education. Students have received more than $250 million in A+ scholarships since 1997.
"Our goal is to get as many people into the A+ program as we can," said Nixon. "You've gone the extra mile to earn A+ certification to provide you with every opportunity possible for the future.
"Becoming an A+ school isn't easy," said Nixon. "It is a big deal that your school has been designated as an A+ school."
More than 360 public high schools in the state have earned A+ designation. In 2011 over 50 more schools will achieve A+ status.
In order to achieve A+ status, school districts take part in a multi-year designation process by developing strategies to address a number of key issues including dropout prevention, student achievement and college and career preparation. The designation is made after a review and final approval by the Missouri State Board of Education.
Nixon visited two high school classrooms while at Exeter. During one of the classroom visits, he reported that only 30 percent of Missourians have college degrees. He hopes to see programs like A+ increase the percentage to 60 percent.
"The hard work, continued success and recognition as an A+ school demonstrates that the students at Exeter are on the right path," said Nixon. "My administration is committed to supporting the Missouri A+ program so that more students from this community can achieve their dream of a college education."
Nixon reported that he has secured additional funding for the A+ program. The fiscal year 2012 budget makes more than $29 million available to fund the program. This is $7 million more than was offered in 2011.
"The A+ program has been a real success for Missouri, and we will continue to make the investment necessary to help provide a college education for young people who are willing to work hard, play by the rules and give back through volunteer tutoring," said Nixon. "If you do the work, we are good on our side of the bargain. We will write the check."
Nixon took questions from several students during his visit to Exeter. He also gave an address in front of the entire student body and faculty in the school's multipurpose facility.
"We are so excited," said Dr. Ernest Raney, Exeter superintendent. "When we received the call on Monday and they said they would like to come and recognize the school as an A+-designated school, we said absolutely. 'Come and make yourselves at home.'"
During his speech, Nixon commented on the behavior of the Exeter students.
"It is nice to be in a room of this size where everyone is quiet and respectful," said Nixon. "Your superintendent should be really proud of his students."
"What he noticed about our kids being so respectful does make me proud," said Dr. Raney. "He might consider that an exception to the rule, but in Exeter, these kids are the rule. We are so proud of our kids and so proud of his first impression of them."
Dr. Raney said he is also proud of the district's teachers, administrators and school board and the entire community for the support the school received as it worked to achieve A+ designation.
"This is a greater opportunity for our kids to go to college, and a greater opportunity for them to achieve their dreams," said Dr. Raney. "That is what we want. We want our kids to go out after they graduate and explore anything in the world they are interested in. This opportunity opens that door for them."
The Exeter School District earned A+ designation last spring. Over 30 students signed up for the program last year.
The Nixons met with five members of the Purdy R-2 Board of Education and talked about the A+ program with three students. Jacqueline Fuller, the district's A+ coordinator, invited three seniors, Nathan Wolf, Alejandra Gomez and Stephanie Kaiser, to describe their future plans and how the A+ program has helped them.
A tour of the Purdy campus followed. The Nixons stopped in several classrooms, talking to students and teachers. Then they went to view the Spanish Club's recycling center. Club members Chris Ibarra, Nick Roppollo and Abigail Ibarra explained the oil filter crusher and how it provides fuel for the heater through the winter, and several other processes that salvage metal and plastic.
"You go to an outstanding school," Nixon said.
Nixon praised the district for having been accredited with distinction for the first time last year and for having a nationally recognized recycling program. He acknowledged the strong community support that has helped the school.
Nixon focused his strongest praise on the district achieving A+ status. Students receive the preparation needed to compete and succeed in a global economy.
"We value your commitment," Nixon said. "For a young person to succeed in today's economy, their education cannot stop at the 12th grade.
"That's why the Missouri A+ program helps students achieve the dream of a college education through hard work and dedication," added Nixon. "The young men and women at Purdy High have shown that they have what it takes to succeed, and we're behind them all the way."