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Graduation coaches are integral to student success
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West Hall High School graduation coach Amy Brock goes over the details of college plans Wednesday with seniors Jimmy Gault and Jaz McIntosh. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

In a few weeks high school students throughout Hall County will turn their tassels and say goodbye to the halls they walked for four years.

Some graduates will go off to college, while others will join the military or enter the workforce, but all of them will have one thing in common: a diploma.

And more and more high school students over the past five years for which data are available have been
getting one.

Since the 2005-06 school year, the dropout rate in the state has dropped from 4.7 percent to 3.56 percent at the end of the 2010 school year, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

Part of the success could be attributed to the 2006 implementation of graduation coaches in Georgia schools, introduced by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Now each of the schools in Gainesville and Hall County has one, and, some students say, without their help they would not be asking the question: “What am I doing after I graduate high school?”

“I wouldn’t have been able to (graduate) by myself,” said Tiffany Martin, a senior at Johnson High School.

“I would’ve pulled my hair out by now — I really would have.”

Her graduation coach, Michael Parker, meets with students daily to keep them on track and to discuss options after graduation.

The coaches, he says, mainly deal with students who show signs of struggling.

“My primary role is to get them to the finish line (at Johnson) first,” said Parker.

After that goal is met, he talks with those students about future possibilities.

 “This is a temporary finish line, however,” said Parker. “It’s not the ultimate finish line.”

Some students go on to traditional colleges, technical schools or enter the workforce directly out of high school.
It just depends on the student and his or her situation.

“It’s not a generic education route anymore,” Parker said.

“It used to be everyone went to school, everybody graduated and everybody was expected to go to college and that doesn’t necessarily fit everyone.”

Martin is not the only one who can thank the graduation coaches for their roles.

Jaz McIntosh, a senior at West Hall High School, said there were a lot of things she didn’t know she had to do before graduation, including the Georgia High School Graduation Test.

Her graduation coach, Amy Brock, kept her up to date on the schedules and encouraged her along the way.

“If it wasn’t for Mrs. Brock I’d be stuck with an attendance certificate and not a diploma,” said McIntosh. “She just helped me and told me to stay focused.”

McIntosh will graduate and plans to go to college.

Brock has been a graduation coach since the position’s inception in 2006.

She knows the influence someone in her position can have on students who need an extra push to get to graduation.

“Once we find out (that a student may struggle) we put them in our group, like we’re a mother hen, and we just keep checking on them,” said Brock.

A part of that includes conversations on steps to further education or move into a career.

“We always talk about what their options are,” Brock said. “Teenagers are in the now, not what is going to happen in the future.”

Since 2006, the state’s graduation rate has increased around 10 percent. Hall County’s has gone up 14 percent and Gainesville has seen a 20 percent rise.

The numbers are from the Adequate Yearly Progress era.

But the success, coaches say, should not end with graduation.

“We try to get (students) to a place where they can succeed,” said Parker. “I don’t want (graduation) to be the finish line for them.”

And the coaches have a lot of hope for their students.

The students do not want to disappoint.

Ivory Cummings, a senior at Johnson, will graduate on time this year.

He wants to open his own gym after attending Lanier Technical College.

“(Parker) had faith in me,” said Cummings. “I want to thank him for giving me an opportunity.”

The coaches say their gratification comes from seeing their efforts culminate when students walk across the stage.

“To see these kids make it is very exciting,” said Brock. “It’s very emotional. It’s very overwhelming.”

 

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