Mixed in with the countless freshmen at the University of Georgia traveling from out of state, rural counties and the Atlanta suburbs are the native Athenian high school graduates.
Their numbers are smaller — in Fall 2015, a total of 38 students from Athens-Clarke County enrolled in the university, according to the UGA Fact Book, but these students defy the stereotypes often associated with racially diverse schools in areas of poverty.
Studies show high school students in poverty are more likely to dropout than those that are not, and high school graduation rates are often lower for racial minorities. Despite the challenges, Athens-Clarke County high school students enroll in Advanced Placement classes, with 24 and 32 percent AP participation at Clarke Central High School and Cedar Shoals High School, respectively, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Both schools also saw huge increases in graduation rates between 2014 and 2015, from 68.2 percent to 83.3 percent at Cedar Shoals and from 71.3 percent to 84.2 percent at Clarke Central, according to data from the Georgia Department of Education. The schools' graduation rates exceed the state average of 78.8.
Classic City High School, an alternative school in the school district, also saw a jump in its graduation rate, from 20.7 percent to 50.7 percent during the same time period.
When it comes to those graduates going to college, financial struggles are often a key factor.
Anisa Jiminez, the public relations and communications director for the Clarke County School District, estimate a 79 percent poverty rate in the Athens-Clarke County school district. The estimate is based on the Direct Certified Poverty Rate and a multiplier set by the government.
“It can be a bit difficult to compare the enrollment from Clarke Central and Cedar Shoals to other schools because it’s not necessarily apples to apples,” said Amanda Dale, the senior associate director of admissions at UGA. “A lot of factors impact the college going rates of students from a particular high school, including socioeconomic status, high school size, rigor of curriculum, college-going culture, student demographics and geographical details.”
Eileen Faull, a senior management major at the university, attended Clarke Central High School for her junior and senior year.
“Before they had free lunch for everyone, I was part of the free meal program,” she said. “I would say about 80 percent of the students were on that.”
Faull said the school offered a variety of programs and clubs to nurture student interests, something she appreciated. Because of the programs, Faull said she believed her classmates were able to go into a variety of professions from politician to a doula — a type of spiritual midwife.
In terms of academics, Faull said she felt Clarke Central High School had a high AP passing rate, and a lot of her friends were accepted into UGA.
According to the annual performance report, 46.3 percent of Clarke Central High School students scored a three or higher on the AP exam.
Because financial hardship is common place in the high schools, the school administrations “work to increase opportunities for students to take AP exams,” Jiminez said.
For those looking to participate in AP courses, the exams that normally cost $93 each are subsidized. Jiminez said enrollment in the program is also fairly open.
“If students believe they are ready to enroll in a rigorous course of study, we do everything possible to support them,” Jiminez said.