News 12 This Morning / Thursday, May 31, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Save Our Seniors pilot program finished up its inaugural year this month in Columbia County. The program pushes fifth-year seniors to walk the stage at graduation.
The high school graduation rate in the state of Georgia fell to 67 percent, which is calculated through a new federal formula. The Save Our Seniors program hopes to improve that number.
At school, students know her as the mom on campus. Inside the halls of Columbia County's alternative school, Lauren Swearingen acts as the graduation coach for at-risk fifth-year high school students.
"Many of these students, people had given up on them. They'd given up on themselves," Swearingen explained.
Save Our Seniors targets non-traditional learners who need a different classroom setting and more attention.
"Maybe they got behind early in their high school career and just got too many credits to make up," Swearingen said.
Ja'net Bishop, the principal of Columbia County Alternative School, said, "The more years you spend in high school, it increases the risk of not being able to graduate. This opportunity was a safety mechanism to be able to catch those students and be able to help them become productive citizens."
From 9:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday, students worked in a lab with graduation coaches like Swearingen. They used online courses provided through the state Department of Education to complete their requirements on classes they failed and earn the credits needed toward getting a diploma.
"We do a lot of encouragement, we help students sit down and figure out a plan for their life and education so they can get their diploma," Swearingen added.
"This was at no cost to these very at-risk students to be able to recover their credits and hopefully be able to graduate," Bishop said.
This month, the Columbia County School Board approved to continue the program next year , but with limited resources and coaches, S.O.S is only able to teach about two dozen seniors a semester.
"We see being in the schools, the great need, so many more students are eligible and would do really well and want to get in this program," Swearingen explained.
Now, this mom on campus is looking to grow the program to save her seniors one diploma at a time.