Governor wants "community coaches" in schools - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Governor wants "community coaches" in schools

May 18, 2007

Albany--High school seniors across south Georgia are preparing to pick up their diplomas.

Unfortunately, many students never make it to graduation. Georgia's graduation rate lags behind most states. But it has increased to an all-time high of almost 71 percent.

Last school year, Perdue created his graduation coach program to help steer students in the right direction. Now he's asking community leaders statewide to help those coaches. And so far, 348 of them have done just that.

It's rehearsal time for these Albany High seniors. Graduation is Saturday.

"Ahhh. I'm so excited to be graduating. For the last four years, I've been waiting for this moment," says Jessica Cruel.

But Jessica Cruel admits that moment will be somewhat bittersweet. Some classmates are missing---some having failed a grade or just simply quit.

"Every year our class would decrease. We started our with a group of about 250. We only have 120 who will be walking tomorrow," she says.

 "It's something we're progressively trying to work on the drop out rate," says Tyshiba Maxie.

Tyshiba Maxie came to Albany High last school year as a graduation coach. Her goal: to keep students in school.

"From individual counseling to group counseling to being that 'cheerleader' that person that tries to encourage and motivate them," she says.

But pretty soon graduation coaches, like Maxie, will get some much needed help from the outside.

"I'm going to be that support to go in there and help her to make sure the students understand 'this is the way you're going to do it,'"says Steve Belk.

Turner Job Corp Director Steve Belk will serve as Albany High's first community coach this fall.

"The governor issued the challenge and I answered the call. Two things they're going to understand when they meet me: that they do matter and I do care," he says.

Maxie and Belk will work as a team.

"As a graduation coach sometimes we don't actually get to go out into the community and recruit volunteers and this is some of the things we want community coaches to do, volunteer, be mentors," says Maxie.

Belk is up for the challenge.

"I can provide the same skills and quality I have at Turner. I'm going to pretty much be there on a weekly basis," he says.

Since Maxie came to Albany High this school year, Cruel, herself, says she's seen the impact she's already made on the student body.

"They get out and let students know what they need to graduate from the beginning. I believe it's decreased the dropout rate a lot," says Cruel.

And as she prepares for that triumphant walk across stage, she hopes even more students will follow in her foot steps--and says bringing in a community coach just might do the trick.

"We always need new people. One person cannot do it alone," says Cruel.

Belk plans to be in weekly contact with students at Albany High. Next school year, middle schools throughout Georgia will also get graduation coaches. Once those middle school coaches are in place, the Dougherty County System hopes to match them with community coaches as well.

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