News 12 First at Five / Wednesday, May 16, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Glenn Hills High School Senior Fantashia Tate pulls out a picture of her 1-year-old girl, smiling as any proud mom would.
She shakes her head, "It's been ... A bumpy road."
A bumpy road, she says, as a teen mom. Having a baby at 16 meant growing up fast and getting up at all hours.
"I used to be late coming to school, I was failing all my classes. But now I'm good. I had to take PLATO to catch up and everything," she said.
PLATO is a program that helps students retake courses online if they're failing or missed too much class.
Glenn Hills School Counselor Crecia Evans says that's one of many programs they are using to increase graduation rates.
"There's also the PIV program that allows parents to monitor grades online," she explained. "And the 21st Century Community Partnership for after-school tutorials."
The school also hosts after-school workshops to help students pass Georgia High School Graduation tests.
"Many of our teachers are here until six or seven o'clock at night working with students who are in need of academic support and enrichment," Evans said.
She says those extra hours help students both academically and socially.
Richmond County school officials say the programs they are implementing across the county are contributing to a dramatic increase in graduation rates. Four years ago, 63.8 percent of seniors in Richmond County earned a diploma. Now it's more than 80 percent.
"Our ultimate goal is to get them in and out in four years with a diploma," Evans said.
While Evans focuses on academic success, her partner Dr. Gale Bell works on "social emotional learning." Bell is a dropout prevention specialist.
"Usually in education, the focus has always been rigor, relevance. And one 'R' has been missing," Bell said. "That is relationships. Research has shown over and over: Social emotional learning is intertwined with academic success."
The entire intervention team, including Bell and Evans, works to pinpoint why students are not doing well at school and help them get back on track.
"I tell the teachers the students don't care how much you know. They want to know how much you care."
Tate knows does know her counselors care and says their compassion is partly why she is graduating on time. She laughs and admits she really is proud of herself for making it down that bumpy road.
"I had to show my baby how good it was to graduate so she could be on the right path when she grows up," Tate said.
Counselors have already targeted some sophomores and juniors for summer classes and workshops to make sure they are encouraged to come back to school next year.
Columbia County Schools are also reporting a higher number of graduating seniors. The numbers show 81.4 percent four years ago and almost 85 percent now.
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