Special Assignment: Graduation Coaches

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May 3, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---Last year, less than 70 percent of all Georgia's high school seniors graduated. In Richmond County, the number was roughly 60 percent.

Governor Sonny Perdue wants to improve those graduation rates, so he's put coaches in every high school.

In a News 12 Special Assignment, we investigated how well it's really working.

This time last year, T.W. Josey High School senior Regina Nabriat was feeling down.

"I was very worried," she said. "I didn't want to disappoint nobody."

Science just wasn't her subject, and she knew she needed help.

"If you don't pass the test, you don't graduate," she said.

Lucky for her, graduation coach Malissa Collins was hired. Collins has been tutoring students like Regina since September.

"It's what I love to do," Collins told News 12.

The two have met multiple times a week to get Regina's science score up so she could graduate.

"It's like once I get to the test, I end up forgetting," Regina said.

But not this time. This time, she passed, raising her score roughly 20 points.

"Without the motivation, I don't think I would have," she said.

"They're individuals, they're persons," Collins said. "They're people we need to invest in."

Dr. Carol Rountree is director of guidance in Richmond County. She supervises Collins and nine other coaches--one in each of the high schools.

"The primary objective was to reduce the dropout rate," Dr. Rountree said.

For a state that consistently ranks at the bottom of the nation's graduation rates, a lot is riding on this $21 million program.

"I wouldn't call it pressure," Dr. Rountree said. "These are individuals who have come to this job expecting to interact with students and make a difference."

Like the other coaches, Collins works with 150 students, assuming the roles of tutor, mentor and counselor.

"She helps you in other ways too...helps you believe in yourself," Regina said.

"I'll never give up," Collins said. "But the earlier we can get in to intervene, the better our success rate and our graduation rate is going to be."

This year, Collins and other coaches have worked with 200,000 students across the state of Georgia.

While Collins and Regina were successful, it's still unclear what, if any, progress other teams have made. The tests given March 16 have yet to be officially scored. Also, some students still have time to complete course requirements. In other words, they haven't received their final grades.

We'll check back in with Richmond County in a couple of weeks. They'll have the official test scores on May 21.

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