As the Graduation Performance Academy, an evening school offered by the Bulloch County Schools with a $196,000 federal grant, “GPA” means a new opportunity for students to graduate from high school on time, or at least sooner than they would have.
The academy operates from 4:15 p.m. until 6:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday in the Transitions Learning Center facility on Williams Road. But except for using the same building at different times and the fact that some TLC faculty and staff work after-hours at the Graduation Performance Academy, the two programs are separate. Students in the daytime TLC alternative program are not eligible for the GPA.
Instead, school buses bring regularly enrolled ninth- through 12th-grade Statesboro High School, Portal Middle High School and Southeast Bulloch High School students to the evening program. The students are served dinner and later get a snack and a bus ride to their homes – as far as Portal and Stilson – all free to them and their parents.
Besides serving students who need to make up missed credits required for graduation, as long as seats are available the night school is also open to students who want to get ahead, said the GPA’s Graduation Specialist Talana Hobbs. She is also the TLC’s counselor during the day.
“If they want to come back and kind of recoup – maybe ninth grade wasn’t a good year, they played around, didn’t realize how valuable that time was and now they realize, ‘Oh, I need to go back and get those credits’ – they can come in and do that,” Hobbs said. “For students who are serious about it and want to open up their options for other things later in their high school years, they can also come and work on high school credits”
That, she said, could be the boost some students need to dual-enroll at a college or university or try a work-based-learning job placement later in school.
On the other end of the grade-level range, a few William James Middle School students, technically old enough to be in high school, are now also enrolled at the GPA.
Each at a computer, GPA students work at their own pace through lessons on the Edgenuity web-based learning platform. Teachers appear on video teaching the lessons, accompanied by popups of their board work and illustrations. Assignments, quizzes and tests are graded automatically.
But a local, certified teacher in one of the four core subjects – one English-language arts teacher, one math teacher, one science teacher and one social studies teacher – is assigned to each of the four classrooms.
GPA students can also take Spanish and electives recognized for credit at the local high schools. These students are assigned to the core-subject classrooms, whose teachers answer questions from students and encourage them to stay on task.
Jamiesha Flagg, 17, is in 11th grade at Statesboro High School five days a week. But she extends her school day, which starts around 9 a.m., to 6:45 p.m. most Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Graduation Performance Academy.
Without the evening school, Flagg would have graduated no earlier than 2021. But after retaking classes through the GPA since it opened in spring semester 2018, she will be back on track to graduate in 2020 as soon as she passes the biology and coordinate algebra courses she is now taking, she said. She took one GPA class each of the two previous semesters.
“She’s a phenomenal student, one that comes in and gets her work done every day…,” said GPA Administrator Tim Rountree. “So, I think she’s a true example of hard work pays off.”
Rountree is also the TLC administrator, and like Hobbs and other educators involved, puts in 11-hour days.
Flagg would recommend the program to other students, especially those who are struggling.
“I’ve been learning faster since I came here,” she said. “I know how to do it now so that I can get it done quicker.”
Middle school too
Zoe Warner, 14, although officially in seventh grade at William James Middle School, is now completing the requirements for eighth-grade simultaneously through special arrangements at her school and evening sessions at the GPA.
Pulled out of school once because of family situations, when she returned she was placed one year back and then had to repeat sixth grade, she said.
“Now that I’m here I’m doing a lot better and I wanted to see if I could skip a grade so that I’m not going to be graduating when I’m 20,” Warner explained.
While taking the four seventh-grade core classes at William James, she passes up the opportunity for two electives and instead takes eighth-grade social studies and math through Edgenuity during the school day. Then she comes to the evening school and takes eighth-grade English-language arts and social studies, also on Edgenuity.
“Honestly, I kind of like it more than that at times, just because it’s a lot quieter and it gives you a lot more time to just, like, just focus on it and you’re able to pause it and rewind it when you need to, and it’s all online, so it’s a silent classroom, just you and your computer,” Warner said.
Program’s 3rd semester
Launched in January 2018, the GPA served 104 high school students at various times that first semester, and 70 of them completed one or more classes through the program. Of those students, 18 were high school seniors who were able to recover credits and graduate.
Fall semester, the program served 116 students, and 31 of them completed one or more classes.
Approved in fall 2017 for a $176,895 federal Rural and Low-Income Schools Grant, the school system allocated $94,037 of the grant to GPA the first year, when only spring semester remained for the program.
But for the current year, grant was $196,457, and the full amount has been allocated to the GPA.
Before launching the program, the local planners made sure everything was in place, said Georgiana Darsey, the Bulloch County Schools’ director of federal programs.
Besides the teachers, graduation specialist and administrator, bus drivers are employed after-hours.
America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia, the Savannah-based regional food bank, provides the dinners. A school food service employee helps serve them in the TLC cafeteria.
The meals and transportation are intended to remove barriers to participation, and so is the flexibility, Darsey said. Students do not have to attend every evening. Some have jobs that require them to work some evenings, so Rountree and Hobbs encourage them to attend the GPA as many nights each week as they can. The program is even open for students who need to work during the day to complete their high school credits after hours, but this would be an exception.
“We are so flexible,” Darsey said. “If you want to go to school during the day and come in the evening to make up credits or to accelerate you can, or if you work during the day and you need to be at work we will be flexible, if you’re still of school age, you can come at night. We don’t want any dropouts. We want our graduation rates up.”
The academy has room for 80 students at a time. So far, peak attendance was about 40 to 45 students some nights last spring. Lately, 16 to 32 students a night is typical, Rountree said. But he and Darsey now expect a spring surge as high school counselors advise students and some face the prospect of delayed graduation.
“We don’t have the sense of urgency yet in second semester from the kids,” said Darsey. “It will hit in a few weeks, and then they’re going to go, ‘Oh no!’ and we’ll get slammed.”
This year the program will also have a June session, replacing the high schools’ credit recovery summer schools.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.