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Summer Scholars celebrate a head start
Gainesville State program gives high schoolers in need a leg up on studies
Johnson High School student Tania Vera, front, 15, walks into an auditorium Thursday for Gainesville State College’s 2009 Summer Scholars Institute graduation ceremony. The program helps middle school students and rising high school students earn class credit. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

More than 120 students celebrated the culmination of the four-week Summer Scholars Institute in which they were able to get a head start on lessons for the upcoming school year.

The Gainesville State College program reaches out to at-risk eighth-, ninth- and 10th-graders in Hall, Gainesville, Habersham and Barrow schools, said Summer Scholars Institute Director Robin Anyanwu.

She said 10 teachers from local school systems joined forces with seven college student mentors and 75 Gainesville State education majors this year to give students a hands-on learning experience, preparing them for state standards they will encounter this fall.

"The goal is to show these students, many of whom are at-risk for dropping out of high school because of economic hardship or language barriers, what a college campus is like and show them not only that a college is education is attainable for them but how they can pay for it," Anyanwu said.

The program is designed to make postsecondary education accessible to a population group that has traditionally been underrepresented in higher education.

After three summers taking science, math, language arts, career planning and history classes, students graduate from the program earning some class credits that can be applied toward a degree from Gainesville State. Anyanwu said the summer program gives students more confidence as they begin the school year.

Now in its 19th year, the institute graduated 34 students Thursday.

Gainesville State College President Martha Nesbitt told scholars at the graduation ceremony that the program holds special significance for her.

"When hard times came in 2002 and 2003, most colleges dropped their program, but we did not," she said. "... Many individual donors stepped up to the plate to make this happen. This program is about challenging our future leaders who will continue to develop Northeast Georgia."

Anyanwu said several individual donors as well as the United Way of Hall County is responsible for keeping the program intact.

In turn, the summer scholars held fundraisers during the program to benefit the United Way. In three days, the teens raised $756 to benefit the agency’s children’s programs.

Summer Scholars teacher and Gainesville Middle teacher Patrice Westbrooks taught state history for the institute for the fifth time this year. In addition to learning about Georgia’s history, ecology and economy in her class, students gain an understanding of their role in the community.

"We do activities about who you are, what you want to be. They begin to see where they fit into the world," she said. "You really see a change in their attitudes over the three years. I’m planning on coming back. It’s one of the highlights of my summers."

Jacob Smith, an eighth-grader at Chestatee Middle, said he learned a lot from Westbrooks.

"They just taught us how to be prepared for college and high school and how to get ahead," he said. "I want to be a musician, but I did some research and found out I don’t need a high school diploma to do that. But I’m still going to get mine so I’ll have something to fall back on. I’m thinking about college, too."