Without a new program to help fifth-year high school seniors graduate, Taylor Johnson doubts she would have earned her diploma.
“It was tough still being in school when all my other friends had graduated,” the 19-year-old said of attending Greenbrier High School during the first semester of the school year. “I felt like I didn’t belong; that I was out of place.”
Johnson failed to earn enough credits to graduate on time. To help her and others in similar situations, the Columbia County Alternative School started the Save Our Seniors program.
Held in a computer lab at the alternative school in Grovetown, seniors worked on earning the needed credits in Web-based classes under the tutelage of a group of high-school graduation coaches.
The program started in January and concluded May 10, with seven of 11 students earning enough credits to graduate, said alternative school principal Ja’Net Bishop. The remaining four are committed to completing their graduation requirements in summer school, she said.
“These are students who recognize the benefit of having an actual high school diploma versus a GED, but still feel uncomfortable in a traditional school setting,” Bishop said. “By putting them in a setting with others in the same situation, with a flexible schedule, we hoped to offer them a more acceptable alternative.”
The seniors met four days each week from 9 a.m. until noon.
“The half-day schedule was a big draw for many of them,” said Grovetown High graduation coach Lauren Swearingen. “We had a student with a sick mother, who probably couldn’t have made it with regular school hours. For the others, the extra time gave them a chance to get part-time jobs, or apply for colleges or technical schools.”
Bishop addressed school board members Tuesday about the program, and received their endorsement to continue it and possibly offer more spaces.
“Going into it as a pilot program we had high hopes,” Swearingen told board members. “But it really exceeded our expectations.
“We were just amazed at the success of these students that others had given up on, or who had given up on themselves.”
Johnson, one of those successful students is cheering for the program’s continued success. She took six classes in the SOS program. Without the distractions at Greenbrier, she finished three days worth of school work in just two days, and graduated early.
“I don’t think I would have done it without it,” Johnson said. “It was my lifesaver.”