Samantha Taylor, 17, and her 14-year-old friend, Keke Harris, clapped their hands in rhythm, laughed and swayed to the beat as a pair of young hip-hop artists busted rhymes Saturday afternoon on the stage of the Georgia Mountains Center arena.
"I like this," Taylor said later. "It’s entertaining."
Mixing entertainment with a message — keeping school-ages kids engaged while stressing the value of education — was the goal of a pair of back-to-back, back-to-school events held Saturday for Gainesville and Hall County students.
At the very least, the attendance for Saturday afternoon’s Back to School Rally 2008 was a success.
More than 500 children of all ages streamed into the Georgia Mountains Center for free school supplies, raffle prizes and the thumping beat of a live stage show put on by an Atlanta-area disc jockey.
"We could not have asked for a better turnout," said Ashley Bell, a board member of the Beulah Rucker Museum and Educational Foundation. "This is something we needed. This Back to School Rally was just in time."
It was the first such rally of its kind put on for area students, with nonprofit kiosks set up in the lobby offering health care, public safety and college education information.
Earlier in the day, the Grady Young Foundation hosted its first Back to School Slam Fest at Gainesville High School, with three-on-three basketball and a slam-dunk competition.
"Hopefully this will start kids back to school on a positive note and remind them that education is so very important," said Charles Young, a Grady Young Foundation board member. He said both organizations are focusing on Hall County’s school dropout rate of more than 7 percent.
"We’ve got too large of a dropout rate, so we need kids to be reminded that if they want to succeed they’ve got to stay in school," Young said.
The message was repeated throughout Saturday’s performances. Young rapper Little Jimmy told his audience before leaving the stage: "The key to success is education. Y’all have a great year."
School started Thursday, and Keke Harris, a freshman at Gainesville High School, was happy for the year to start.
Saturday’s event "definitely" helped maintain that excitement, she said.