Georgia Employs High School 'Graduation Coaches'
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Plenty of high schools have football or basketball coaches, but this year high schools in Georgia have a different type of coach. Susanna Capelouto of Georgia Public Broadcasting explains.
SUSANNA CAPELOUTO: Keagan Ghoulsby(ph) is his fourth year at Sequoia High School in Canton, about 40 miles north of Atlanta. Not everyone, he says, stays that long.
Mr. KEAGAN GHOULSBY (Student, Sequoia High School): Over half of people that I know dropped out since I've been a freshman. My good friend, Edward, he dropped out freshman year three weeks into it. And there's a lot more than what I expected - a lot more. And - but it's kind of - but I didn't want to go that route, so I just stuck with it.
CAPELOUTO: But it hasn't been easy for Keagan. He's 18 now and should be a senior. Instead, he's still in 11th grade because, he says, last year, he missed too many days of school.
Mr. GHOULSBY: I didn't - I wasn't here a lot. And that was my fault, but right now I'm trying to make it back up.
CAPELOUTO: Keagan could become a dropout statistic and one in about three students in Georgia who do not finish high school on time. So this year, he meets regularly with Michelle Francis.
Ms. MICHELLE FRANCIS (Graduation Coach, Georgia): And we spoke about doing the NovaNET?
Mr. GHOULSBY: Yes, ma'am.
Ms. FRANCIS: And where are you standing with that? What's...
CAPELOUTO: They sit in her tiny, windowless office and try to figure out how he can make up classes using a computer course system.
Mr. GHOULSBY: ...and I'm pretty well through that. I have two courses left in that. And after that, I'll be taking a math statistics and then...
CAPELOUTO: Francis is a graduation coach. Her sole purpose is to find students like Keagan who are likely to dropout and help them graduate instead. She's only been on the job for a couple of months and quickly found out that most students want help.
Ms. FRANCIS: Someone has taken the interest in them because everyone wants a little attention, I believe. You know, you want to be noticed and - especially when you're falling behind or there's some things out there that are affecting your life.
CAPELOUTO: In Georgia, like elsewhere, kids drop out for the usual reasons. They are bored, they can't do the job or they get pregnant. Francis believes if she can get to them in time, she can help just like a football coach helps a player through an injury.
Ms. FRANCIS: As a coach, you want to cheer your team on, you know? You want to bring your team to victory. So I think the uniqueness in our title as a coach brings to the table to the student that I'm on your side. I'm with you till the end. You know, let's win this game in which this game is for you to finish high school in a timely manner.
CAPELOUTO: For Keagan that meant setting monthly goals so he can finish his 11th grade class work while also doing his senior year academics. He's stopped playing soccer and is at school from 7:30 to 5:30 everyday - learning and making up lost credits. He also has a job and no time for anything else. It's not easy, he says, but his goal of graduating with his freshman class in May keeps him going.
Mr. KEAGAN: Yeah, it's going to be rough. But in the middle of the year, I'm hoping I'll have enough credits by then to get to where I need to be at a 12th grade homeroom and then work with my senior project and get that all done, and get everything I need to do done exactly. So that's all I'm working towards.
CAPELOUTO: Georgia's more than 340 graduation coaches have the goal of raising the state's graduation rate by at least three percent. Their job depends on it. The state legislature will decide in January whether to fund the $15 million program for another year, and Governor Sonny Perdue wants to expand it to middle schools.
For NPR News, I'm Susanna Capelouto in Atlanta.
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