August 8, 2006 Thomas County -- Georgia has the third highest high school drop out rate nationwide, but Thomas County has one of south Georgia's lowest drop out rates at four percent.
A new Ninth Grade FOCUS Academy hopes to keep those numbers low and keep students in class.
"I was pretty nervous, I was just scared if I'll get to my classes okay or I won't get lost or anything," says 9th grader Brittany Duren.
"To see the bigger students and know that you're going from the top of the food chain to the bottom of the food chain," says 9th grader Ian Scruggs.
The Thomas County Central's Ninth Grade FOCUS Academy keeps freshmen together and insulated, easing fears and giving them the tools for success. "We're teaching them some study skills, we're teaching them the transition, how to get from class to class in a certain amount of time period, where they're not being walked to class," says 9th grade Math Teacher Amy Casper.
But what this school really hopes to do is keep kids from getting lost in the shuffle. "This eases kids into the high school situation," says 9th grade World History Teacher Alvin Hicks. "Hopefully it will keep certain kids from going through some type of traumatic situation which can happen that might tend to make a kids want to drop out sooner."
Thomas County's drop out rate is four percent. The majority drop out in 9th grade. By preparing and challenging these students to be successful, more students will stay in school.
"In the middle school they had a whole lot of support, because they were teamed together," says 9th Grade Asst. Principal MaryBeth Weaver. "Then in the high school, we just kind of dropped them off and said, 'good luck,' so this kind of builds the teams together with the teachers so that they get to know the students personally."
On just the second day of class, students say it's made a difference in easing fears. "That made it better, because I know mostly everyone in our school," says Brittany Duren.
Ian Scruggs said, "You have somebody who actually know what you're going through like your friends to be there with while you walk through the big high school."
It's given teachers confidence that some of the potential drop outs in this 500 student class will be here in four years for graduation.
The Ninth Grade FOCUS Academy is a separate building from the high school, but allows student to participate in extracurricular activities with other grades.