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Students, parents help prepare Bulloch PLC for start of classes
Vickie Lewis, a language arts facilitator for the Bulloch County Perfromance Learning Center, stands on a chair while daughter and center student Imani Lewis, 16, and fellow facilitator Joicy Mathis help put together a bulletin board Tuesday for the upcoming school year. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    Students, teachers and parent volunteers scurried around the William James Educational Complex recently, preparing for classes at the Bulloch County Performance Learning Center to begin.
    Many people have misconceptions about the PLC, said academic coordinator Danny Edenfield, whom students fondly call “Mr. Ed.”
    The small, nontraditional school isn’t a punitive alternative for students with behavioral problems, as some mistakenly assume. It is a learning alternative for students who, for a variety of reasons, do not thrive in the  traditional school environment.
    Students are referred by counselors and principals from three local high schools — Statesboro High, Southeast Bulloch High and Portal High, he said.
    The students referred to the PLC may want to accelerate their studies, like Sarah Gatewood, a 17-year-old who graduated a year early, or Imani Lewis, 16, who is joint-enrolled at the PLC and Georgia Southern University.
    It’s also a choice for students who are easily distracted by the everyday teen drama or the hustle and bustle of a traditional school. Some students who do not work well in a strictly structured environment fare better in the PLC, where they can work at their own pace.
    There are almost as many reasons for students choosing the PLC as there are students, Edenfield said. “There is always a different story.”
    The PLC has a seat-time waiver, meaning students can “earn their credits as quickly as they want,” he said.
    That’s what Gatewood did.
    The Southeast Bulloch High School student said “I wasn’t really happy where I was, and I saw a chance to further my education.” She was at the Performance Learning Center Monday, volunteering her time as a thank-you for what the PLC did for her. Monday was “Student-Parent Volunteer Day,” when students and parents of the school helped prepare the school for classes.
    Gatewood worked hard to get her high school credits, completing her junior and senior assignments in one year.
    “It was a lot of hard work and studying,” she said. “I was here to get my work done and be a more productive person.”
    The high school drama and focus on socializing wasn’t her style, she said. She has a goal - to get a degree in cosmetology at  Ogeechee Technical College and eventually open her own salon for children, “ where they can get chocolate and strawberry facials” and have fun when getting haircuts, she said.
    With about 75 students, there is a 1-15 student-teacher ratio, with less distractions than a traditional school.
    “It’s kind of the best-kept educational secret,” Edenfield said. There is a waiting list to get into the school, which is in its sixth year of operation in Bulloch County. And last year, the school received honors for being the best PLC in the state — the “2007 PLC of Distinction.” It was the first school to receive the honor.
 PLC works for students
    Students can attend the PLC and still take elective courses at their home high school or be joint-enrolled at local colleges or universities. The graduation rate for the PLC is about 70 percent — slightly higher than Bulloch County’s and Georgia’s rates, Edenfield said.
    For whatever reason a student chooses the PLC, it works, he said. The school has virtually no disciplinary problems and students are happy.
    “They enjoy this kind of family environment, and we’re very flexible,” he said. “We have students from every kind of situation imaginable.”
    Students have mentors, regular advisement sessions every two or three weeks, and get to see how getting an education leads to success, he said. “It is a motivator when a kid sees an end to what they’re doing.”
    The PLC is by no means  the “alternative school” where students with emotional or behavioral disorders are placed.
    “It’s not any kind of punitive school,” Edenfield said. “They come to us because they want to be successful. We don’t just recover credits, we recover students.”
    A student failing classes in a traditional environment can — and often does — make up and surpass the requirements by working at his own pace, in his own way, he said. “The students focus — out of  the box.”
    Graduates still get to march with their classes. “I sit through three graduations in one day (for three high schools) and it’s the happiest day of the year because I get to see our kids march,” he said.
    Lewis will be attending classes at the PLC this fall, her first year there. She is also jointly enrolled at GSU, taking English, precalculus and calculus classes.
    “I like  the smaller learning environment,” she said. “I get more personal time with teachers, it’s faster and a lot more efficient.”
    Lewis did not want to waste time in “filler” classes her senior year — electives for which she did not get graduation credits, but would be required for “seat  time” in school. The PLC option enables her to get a jump start on college courses while completing her high school graduation requisites.
    The PLC “is more about the students,” she said, “I think every kind of student would benefit from PLC.”
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