Before Tuesday, Hall County might as well have been in another state for many of the visiting teenagers.
Venturing four to five hours from their home in rural southeast Georgia, the Appling County High School sophomores got to see a faster pace of life — especially traveling through Atlanta — but also heightened educational opportunities.
Their two-day trip ended with a visit to Chestatee High School in northwest Hall.
“It’s good to see a school that’s maybe 50 kids larger than us and they have so many (Advanced Placement) classes, and that just shows that we can do it too,” said student Madeline Rentz.
The students’ trip was organized by Pam Williams, Georgia’s 2011 teacher of the year and now an instructional support specialist at Appling County High.
“We want our children at our school to be equipped to get into any university of their choice, to prepare for whatever their life is after high school,” she said.
“We may offer more courses that offer more rigor, which is what our major universities are looking for, but getting our students to stick it out ... has proven to be a little bit of a problem,” Williams said.
Students get into the classes and realize they might be in over their head, then opt for non-AP classes, she said.
“Then, they get to their senior year and they’re applying to get into some of the more competitive universities, and they don’t get accepted,” Williams said.
With the “Sophomore Project,” she hopes to reverse that trend, starting with exposing high-achieving 10th-graders to the challenging course offerings at schools in the Atlanta area.
“Hopefully, by letting them meet some of their counterparts in schools that offer a lot of these rigorous classes, they can see ... some of the kids they’re being compared to,” Williams said.
She said that in setting her itinerary for the trip, she asked the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education in Atlanta to recommend schools “that are doing some amazing things.”
Several were suggested, but Forsyth Central and Chestatee high schools “worked within our time frame,” Williams said.
“The kids are just amazed at the things they’re getting to see,” she added.
The group, including 19 students and social studies teacher Wendy Powell, spent Monday evening visiting Georgia State University and Georgia Tech in Atlanta, eating dinner in Atlanta and then traveling to Cumming.
After a morning at Forsyth Central, the group arrived at Chestatee and immediately went into a session featuring five of Chestatee’s top students — Casey Atkins, Melanie Smith, Fernanda Arcaraz, Erika Alcantar and Andrew Barnett.
The Chestatee students shared personal academic experiences, including with AP, and how they have juggled classes and extracurricular activities. They also talked about their plans after high school.
“If you’re going to college, you need to take AP classes,” Atkins told the group.
The Appling and Chestatee students then mingled for a while before the Appling students divided into groups and visited different AP classes.
Chelsey White, sitting in Dana Richardson’s AP English literature and composition class, said she appreciates the Sophomore Project.
“It’s nice to come and learn new stuff to take back to (our school), so we can better our classes and help us get further in our education,” she said. “This is a very enlightening experience for us, as sophomores.”