Harlem High School seniors celebrated the beginning of the end on Tuesday, their first day back to classes for their final year in high school.
To help them through the next 180 days until they graduate, school administrators held an assembly on opening day designed to motivate seniors and their underclassman to strive for success.
"We are the only school in the entire state of Georgia doing what we're doing here today," first-year Harlem High Principal Allen Griffin said to students. "I hope it will motivate you to jump-start your year."
Newly-appointed assistant principal Carla Shelton believes the assembly is the beginning of a new tradition at the school.
"We wanted to think outside the box and be a little bold on the first day of school," she said. "We just wanted to promote our school and to get kids to have a sense of pride about coming from Harlem High School."
Many administrators and teachers donned graduation gowns as they led the senior class into the school gym in a manner similar to a graduation procession.
Seniors from Harlem High School march into an assembly held in the gym on opening day aimed at motivating students to perform well.
Photo by Donnie Fetter
"We want them to feel like if they know where they're going, they'll be more motivated to get there," art teacher Margaret Shearouse said. "It also inspires the younger ones and lets them know this is obtainable."
The students helped contribute to a record-setting new school year. System officials reported an enrollment of 19,742 on Wednesday, breaking the county's previous enrollment record of 19,456, set in March. Schools Superintendent Tommy Price expects the population will continue to grow to more than 20,000.
On Tuesday, seniors at Harlem High sat in chairs on the school floor while the rest of the school's 1,122-member student body filled bleachers to hear faculty and student song performances and guest speakers.
Tina Moses, an assistant professor at the Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry and a 1990 graduate of Harlem High, served as the guest motivational speaker.
"You are special and shouldn't allow yourself or anyone else to discourage you by thinking any less," she said. "Keep your hopes high, even when your most cherished dreams seem unattainable."
The special assembly was not organized as a reaction to Harlem High failing to make the state's adequate yearly progress report based on a low graduation rate last year, Griffin said.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools must continually progress in the academic performance of all students and in subgroups broken down by economic status, sex, race, graduation rates and other categories.
Harlem High was less than two percent shy of the 60 percent graduation rate required for AYP.
It is the first year the school did not meet the requirement. If it fails to meet the graduation rate again this year it will be placed on the dreaded Needs Improvement list.
"Regardless of AYP, we're going to graduate out seniors, because it is what is in their best interest," Griffin said.
He and other administrators said they hope the assembly encourages students to work harder and to express school pride.
"I thought it was pretty good," Harlem High Senior Breanna Brzozowski said. "It did make me want to work harder this year."
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