The cheers shouted out for high school seniors by friends and family attending a summer school graduation ceremony Friday weren't enough for Tyler Key.
Key, 19, stood up following a presentation of diplomas in the Greenbrier High School gym and motioned for more.
"I liked getting that praise," the Grovetown High graduate said. "I'm so happy, I wanted more."
Dressed in the graduation gowns that represented their high school, 43 seniors received their diplomas after earning enough credits during summer school classes.
For some, that meant catching up on courses they previously missed or failed. For a few others, such as17-year-old Lakeside High senior Andreea Bitere, the evening was the culmination of lots of hard work to get ahead.
Bitere graduated a year early so as not to waste time getting to the next stage in her academic career, which is two years at Augusta State University and then Emory University School of Medicine.
"I'm a little anxious," she said of taking the next step. "I'm starting a new life now that this is complete."
For those who were playing catchup, Columbia County schools Associate Superintendent Jeff Carney told graduates during the ceremony that mattered little now that their diplomas were in hand.
"You finished the job," he said. "You finished the deal."
Bryce Waters, a 19-year-old Evans High graduate, echoed Carney's sentiment.
"I'm so happy that it doesn't matter at this point," Waters said of graduating late. "I'm out."
Waters and Key are among a growing number of seniors receiving their diplomas in summer school.
In four years, the number of summer school graduates has risen from seven to more than 40.
That's no coincidence, said Lakeside High Assistant Principal Dorcas Powell.
It was four years ago, she noted, that graduation coaches first entered the school system. Powell was the first to hold that position at Lakeside.
"This is the first class to have had a graduation coach for the entire four years of high school," she said. "Having more students graduate now, rather than go through another year of school, I think is a direct result of that."
Gov. Sonny Perdue created the graduation coach position to keep students on track and boost the state's graduation rate, which measures the number of students graduating high school within four years. Graduation rates also are a factor in determining high schools' adequate yearly progress as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.
Seniors who graduate during summer school still can be counted with their class, as long as they didn't previously fail a grade in high school, and not affect their school's graduation rate.
Summer school classes, online courses and remediation work during the school year are the tools available to graduation coaches to keep students motivated to graduate on time, Powell said.
"Basically, they (those at risk of not graduating on time) now have someone looking out for them," Powell said.
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