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Rally organizers aim to keep students in school
Chike performs at last year’s Back to School Rally at the Georgia Mountains Center.
Back to School Rally 2009
What: An afternoon of entertainment and information for students and their parents, pushing kids to stay in school
Where: Georgia Mountains Center
When: 2-6 p.m. Aug. 8
Cost: Free
Contact: Rojene Bailey, 404-401-6589, or e-mail; Carol Williams, 770-536-1121 or e-mail

A rally set for the Saturday before school starts features entertainment for students and two seminars for their parents in an effort to get kids excited about going back to school and keep them from dropping out.

The free “Back To School Rally 2009,” sponsored by three local groups, will take place from 2-6 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Georgia Mountains Center and is open to students of all ages from first to 12th grade.

The rally is expected to be bigger and better than last year’s, which drew more than 500 students, said Rojene Bailey with The Educational Foundation and Museum of Beulah Rucker Inc. The museum honors the memory of Beulah Rucker, who moved to Gainesville in the early 1900s and established a school for black children that continued until the 1950s.

The rally was the brainchild of Bailey, executive director of the museum and Rucker’s grandson, who was driven to hold the first back to school rally last year after reading about the high school dropout rate in Georgia and Hall County.

“The dropout rate is just dismal, we decided why don’t we do something for the kids to encourage them to go to school and stay in school,” Bailey said. “If one kid drops out of school, that’s a burden on all of us in the long run, it doesn’t matter (the child’s) race or ethnic background.”

According to a May 2009 report “Left Behind in America: The Nation’s Dropout Crisis,” in 2007, 16 percent of the people ages 16-24, almost 6.2 million people, were high school dropouts. In Georgia specifically, 22.1 percent of the population in that age range — more than 1 in 5 — were high school dropouts, the highest percentage in the country.

Gainesville and Hall County have slowly been improving their dropout rates over the last three years, but still remain above the state average. Gainesville has improved from 7 percent of high school students dropping out in 2006 to just 4 percent in 2008. Hall County has improved from 6.5 percent in 2006 to 3.7 percent in 2008. In 2008, 3.6 percent of Georgia high school students dropped out, compared to 4.7 percent in 2006.

The foundation is being joined this year by the United Way of Hall County and The Drug Free Coalition of Hall County in presenting the rally. Bailey said the first 400 children at the rally will receive free school supplies, thanks to the successful efforts of the United Way’s “Stuff the Bus” Campaign. Saturday, the bus will be located at TJ Maxx on Spout Springs Road for those wishing to donate school supplies and will be at the United Way’s 527 Oak St. offices all this week.

The Aug. 8 rally features entertainment from “The Breakdown” of Atlanta, “Determine Your Destiny” of Alabama and cheerleaders from area schools as well as contests, games and prizes, Bailey said.

“It’s all kids ... the reason for that is if it’s kids their own age entertaining and talking to them, they’ll listen,” Bailey said. “It worked out great last year and it’s going to work out even better this year.”

Hall County school Superintendent Will Schofield and Gainesville school Superintendent Merrianne Dyer also will be speaking at the rally, Bailey said.

But what’s the message that organizers want to get across to students while they’re having a good time?

“That in the words of our friend over at the United Way, Carol Williams, ‘It’s cool to stay in school. It’s cool to get an education,’” Bailey said.

“We feel this is a great venue for encouraging all Hall County youth to avoid risky behavior and set their sights on getting their high school diploma, said Williams, senior vice president of community impact. “The Back to School Rally will provide fun activities for school-aged children and their parents that zeros in on this critical message.”

Something new this year will be two workshops offered for parents on a first-come, first-served basis, sponsored by the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County. At 3:15 p.m., “Communications with Kids” will teach parents about communicating with their kids. “New Social Site Technologies: Advantages and Disadvantages,” at 4:15 p.m. will cover what parents need to know about online sites like Facebook, MySpace and others.

“Youth substance abuse and its related consequences inhibit a student’s abilities in school and thus contribute to the drop out rate,” said J.P. Banks, project coordinator for The Drug Free Coalition. “Our intention in joining the (Beulah Rucker) Foundation to promote the rally is to bring attention to this fact in a fashion that informs youth and parents alike of the importance of living drug free and staying in school.”

The rally also will have information booths on after-school programs, technical schools and colleges.