When Mary Franks sets foot on the campus of Eastern University this fall, she will find an environment much like the one she is about to leave.
Franks, 18, will graduate June 8 as the valedictorian of Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology, where she has attended since it opened when she was in third grade.
The biggest difference in college will be the campus. While Charter Conservatory is a public school in a nondescript building on Northside Drive East, Eastern is a Christian university set in idyllic St. Davids, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb.
But both schools have small populations and focus on students’ individual growth, academically and holistically. Franks’ graduating class at Charter Conservatory is 17 students; the class she will join at Eastern’s Templeton Honors College has 36 students.
“I love being able to get to know everybody in high school,” Franks said. “At prom a couple of weeks ago, everybody knew each other. That support encouraged everybody to excel, whether they have hard family lives, are (academically) accelerated or have a learning disability.”
The area Eastern is in offers something Statesboro doesn’t: easy access to a large city. Eastern is a short public transit ride to Philadelphia, which has its share of poverty and crime.
Franks said her first impression of Philadelphia wasn’t good. She went there two years ago on a mission trip with other members of her church, Eastern Heights Baptist.
“I decided then that if I loved the city, I knew this was where I was meant to go and where God wanted me to be,” she said. “I hated it. It was ugly. But I realized by the end of the trip that it had much more to offer, and there was more of an opportunity to serve.”
Franks doesn’t have a long list of extracurricular activities, because she dedicated much of her time outside school and homework to community service. She is an intern at Open Hearts Community Mission, a Statesboro ministry that serves the homeless.
She plans to major in sociology and minor in Spanish. She is certain she wants to do something that involves helping children living in poverty, though she isn’t yet sure what that is.
It’s no surprise Franks is a high achiever. Both of her parents, Susan Franks and the late Gene Franks, received doctorate degrees in education from Virginia Tech. Susan Franks is an associate professor of early childhood education at Georgia Southern University.
Mary Franks said that even with that academically rich lineage, she is grateful to Charter Conservatory for encouraging and equipping her to chart her own course in life.
Now, she is ready to set sail.