Five DeKalb high schools get help to boost graduation rates

6/13/2014, 7:05 p.m.
Five DeKalb high schools are getting help to fight dropouts with the start of the new school year in August.
DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmond (second from right) receives a $30,000 grant from AT&T Georgia President Beth Shiroishi (second from left) on June 9 at the Department of Labor headquarters in Atlanta. The money will help start the Jobs for Georgia’s Graduates program at five DeKalb high schools. Also pictured are Janelle Duray, associate vice president of Jobs for America’s Graduates, and Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

Five DeKalb high schools are getting help to fight dropouts with the start of the new school year in August.

Between 200 and 225 students at Clarkston, Lithonia, Ronald E. McNair and Towers in South DeKalb and Cross Keys in Atlanta will participate in the highly respected Jobs for Georgia’s Graduates program.

Superintendent Michael Thurmond, who announced the initiative on June 9 alongside state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler at DOL headquarters in Atlanta, said he has seen the impact of Jobs for Georgia’s Graduates serving disadvantaged students to help them finish high school and move on to postsecondary education and a career.

“I want to bring the JGG program to our schools in DeKalb County to share that opportunity for success with our high school students who need it the most,” said Thurmond, a former state labor commissioner.

The School District is hoping the partnership among schools, business and the Georgia Department of Labor, which provides mentoring, tutoring and academic help, will keep at-risk students in class until they graduate.

Adrian Harris, who graduated in May from Newnan High School’s Jobs for Georgia’s Graduates, said he was in danger of becoming a dropout statistic before it arrived at his school.

“I just felt at some point that I wasn’t the type to graduate,” he said. “But [JGG counselor] Gaines Coker changed my mind, kept me on track and helped me out with any problem I had school-wise, socially, whatever.”

Harris graduated with a 3.0 GPA and is now pondering the University of West Georgia in Carrollton and two other colleges to study business management in the fall.

“I’m also considering the University of North Carolina and the University of Georgia,” he said.

The Jobs for Georgia’s Graduates program also provides training to help students develop “soft skills,” which school officials say will make them more employable.

Those skills include dressing appropriately, interviewing well, embracing teamwork and communicating well. Program counselors offer follow-up consultations with the students for 12 months after they graduate.

Newnan High graduate Kaelin Bridges said JGG made him a more competitive job candidate.

“They taught me to reach for the stars,” said Bridges, who is a sophomore business major at Tuskegee University in Alabama. “I already had good support from my family, but JGG taught me the skills I need to launch a career and what employers actually look for in hiring a new employee.”

Butler, the first Republican to head the state Labor Department, said the JGG program counselors get results.

“The passion they have to help these young people is like no other,” he said. “A lot of times all they need is a caring adult who can give them good solid advice because for a lot of them, the barriers that keep them from succeeding in school aren’t necessarily academic. It’s all the stuff going on in their home lives. Maybe Mom has to work three jobs. So they don’t have that extra help to get past those barriers. So, what happens then? They give up.”

Butler said the schools identify at-risk kids and Jobs for Georgia’s Graduates gives them intensive one-on-one counseling to overcome personal obstacles that may be blocking their progress in school.

He said they have had great success with the program.

“A 95 percent graduation rate over the last six years,” he said.

Jobs for Georgia’s Graduates is an affiliate of the Jobs for America’s Graduates. The Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit network serves 45,000 students in 31 states. It has a $1 million grant from AT&T to expand nationally.

During the June 9 news conference, AT&T Georgia President Beth Shiroishi presented a $30,000 check to Thurmond for DeKalb’s program.

Thurmond said the grant will help pay for classroom space and offices for counselors.