East Hall High School seniors Edgar Garcia and Veronica Lopez are on track to be the first among their siblings to earn a high school diploma when they walk across the stage on graduation day next month. They even have opportunities to continue their education at Lanier Technical College in the fall.
But, when the school year began, neither student was thinking about college.
“I was hoping I could graduate,” Garcia said Tuesday. “I wasn’t really a bad kid. I wasn’t having trouble with my teachers. It was more that I was getting on the lazy stage. I started skipping and got into the habit and told myself it wouldn’t affect me. I ended up failing my sophomore year. That’s why I couldn’t graduate last year.
“I wasn’t really thinking anything (about the future),” he added. “I just wanted to get out of school.”
Lopez said she also began the school year understanding she might not earn her high school diploma.
“At the beginning of the year, I felt like I wasn’t on track to graduate,” she said. “I was thinking (after high school) I was going to have to get a full-time job.”
Both students have seen their academic opportunities grow as a result of participation in Technical College Readiness math and English courses piloted by Hall County Schools this semester. East Hall, Johnson High and Lanier Charter Career Academy have been offering the English and math courses this spring in an effort to help students have a better possibility for post-secondary education. The pilot project was approved by the state board of education.
A total of 54 students are enrolled in the courses at the three schools. To be eligible for either of the two courses, students could not qualify for Lanier Tech before the courses began.
“The bottom line is that some of them may have gotten diplomas, some of them may not have gotten diplomas,” Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, told members of the school board last week. “But many of these students were going to have very limited opportunities because they failed to make a certain score for one of the qualifying tests. These students were absolutely stuck in no-man’s land.”
Now, halfway through the semester, Garcia and Lopez have qualified for Lanier Tech’s degree program in both math and English, meaning they could eventually transfer to a four-year program. Bales told the board a total of 10 students have already met the degree-level requirement for English and 12 have already met the requirements for the degree level in math. A total of 15 students have met the requirements for both math and English for a diploma or certificate program at Lanier Tech.
“Those numbers can only improve,” said Bales, pointing out the statistics are from the midpoint of the semester.
Both Garcia and Lopez qualified for Lanier Tech with their English scores and did not take the English course, but needed to pass the math class to have options at Lanier Tech.
Instead of thinking about a minimum-wage job, Lopez is now looking ahead to graduation and the possibility of eventually transferring from Lanier Tech to the University of North Georgia and majoring in psychology.
“For me, this class has honestly changed my life,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to graduate, and now I’m thinking about my future plans and it’s awesome to think about that. At the beginning of the semester, it was all fading away from me. I felt like I had no control of my life. I feel I can control it now.”
Garcia, who once envisioned his post-high-school days working as a babysitter, is now looking forward to college.
“I want to check out Lanier Tech and see what they have,” he said, explaining that he has not decided on a major. “I want to be openminded.”
Both said they liked the way the program allows students to work online at their own pace with help from a teacher, and the course helped them to learn the material and be more motivated to achieve more in all classes. They were also challenged by not being allowed to use a calculator.
“I never used to review the question (after a test),” Garcia said. “Now I look at it to see what I did wrong. I love seeing my mistakes because it helps me learn. With this class you can’t use a calculator, but as long as I’ve got paper and a pencil, I can try to find the answer.”
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield sought the state board’s approval to allow Hall County to pilot the courses.
“Let’s just be honest, for the most part American education has a one size fits all program for everybody,” Scofield told the board last week. “We have long believed that if we could break down some barriers — if we could get these kids to where they had an opportunity — we could engage them and say, ‘There’s a possibility for you at a Lanier Tech or another technical college where special things could happen.’ We think we can take a significant number of these students and put them in a position to be successful.”
Of the 80 students who were tested for the courses, about 12 qualified for Lanier Tech and began programs through Lanier Tech this semester.
Bales said the courses are providing new hope for Garcia, Lopez and the other students taking the courses.
“Some of these kids were about to go out and fight for a minimum-wage job, and now what we’re doing is giving the opportunity where they can fight for a $25 or a $30 an hour job because of their experience at Lanier Tech,” Bales said. “I think at the end of the day if they want to do the $10 an hour job, it’s what they’ve seen, it’s what they want or in some cases, it’s what they know — there’s nothing wrong with that. But I think education has always been about opportunity and to give these kids the opportunity to say, ‘You know what, I’m going to go after the $30 an hour job.’ I think that’s pretty special.”
Schofield and Bales said other districts have called about the courses, and some may begin offering the courses in the fall.