Harlem High School typically produces a lower percentage of graduates than any of Columbia County's public high schools.
"We have a 70 percent graduation rate, so every four years we're losing 30 percent of our kids," Harlem High Graduation Coach David Thibodeau said.
In an effort to change that, Thibodeau recently introduced a new program dubbed C2G: Commitment to Graduate to encourage students to complete high school.
Last week, the school held a breakfast meeting with seniors and a supper meeting with juniors to get a commitment from them to graduate.
Prior to the dinner meeting, Thibodeau told about 100 juniors and parents gathered in the school's auditorium that the class of 2010 once had 380 students. That number has since dwindled to 270.
"One hundred and 10 students entered with the desire for a high-school diploma, but didn't have the commitment," he said.
As a symbol of the students' commitment, Thibodeau asked seniors to sign a graduation gown and juniors to sign large banners bearing the C2G logo.
Patricia Germany attended the dinner with her son Kendrell, a 17-year-old junior at Harlem High.
"I think this is the kind of thing he needs," Germany said of her son. "He needs to know how hard it is out there for someone who doesn't have a diploma."
Kendrell signed the banner with other classmates.
"It's something I need to do," he said. "I know how important it is."
Also in attendance at the dinner were staff members of the new Grovetown High School. About 100 of Harlem's juniors have been rezoned to attend the Grovetown High next school year.
The school's new graduation coach, Donna Rushing, said she might adopt the C2G program.
"I think it's a great platform to inform students how much graduation and getting that diploma can mean," Rushing said. "If you can get students to think about a diploma as theirs, give them some ownership of it, they'll work harder to achieve it."
The meetings also provided seniors and juniors with checklists to graduate and information on financial aid.
Eventually, the program will include commitments from sophomores and freshmen, Thibodeau said.
"It's to challenge students to start thinking about graduation," he said. "A lot of students come to school and aren't thinking about school and what's going to happen after it ends."
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