Chosen students in each of the two Clarke County High Schools now have the opportunity to participate in a three-year program preparing them for the future. Through the Georgia Possible program, approximately 40 students will participate in classes aimed at enhancing their leadership and academic skills.
The new program was developed through a partnership between the Clarke County School District, UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development and the Office of the President. Its aim is to prepare its students for the comprehensive process of entering college.
Those involved began as high school freshman this year and were nominated as eighth-grade students by their respective middle school teachers.
“I think we were very deliberate in making sure there was not a narrow criteria of identifying what characteristics these young people had,” said CCSD Superintendent Demond Means. “We don’t want to pigeon hole and define what young people can do based on their current academic performance. We believe that all students are really capable and possible of doing anything that they want to do.”
On Sep. 7, the program had its launch on the UGA campus, Means said. At the kickoff, the students had a chance to work as a group on the UGA challenge course practicing “team building,” Means said.
Even though the program will expand over three years, Means said CCSD faculty involved in organizing the program — as well as UGA President Jere Morehead and those involved from the Fanning Institute — have already planned what topics will be covered. These include exposure to “cultural experiences,” communication, conflict and stress management and understanding the college application process.
“The reason why we named the program Georgia Possible is because these are young people that are representatives of the state of Georgia and anything is possible for them,” Means said.
Cedar Shoals High School Principal Derrick Maxwell said he thinks this program has given a group of students the chance to form friendships and connections that may have not been available to them if not for Georgia Possible.
“You could see that they’ve already kind of became a little cohort of individuals from both schools that probably would have minimal interactions because they don’t go to the same schools,” Maxwell said.
The program has not received much press. Means said students were unaware that a selection process was underway this past year when teachers from each of the Clarke County Middle Schools –– Burney-Harris Lyons, Clarke, Hilsman and W.R Coile –– chose 10 eighth-grade students from each school for the program.
Means said one characteristics teachers looked for was students who are “looking forward to doing something with their lives in post-secondary situation.” He said that grades were not a prime factor in determining nominees.
Those with no prior information on the program, like CCSD parent Yolanda Parker, have found it difficult to place complete trust in this selection process.
“I was not notified the program exist (sic) let alone it was going to be launched this year,” Parker said. “The article was posted three weeks after school started.”
Parker has a 16-year-old son at Clarke Central High School. She heard about the program from a Facebook post after the launch. Parker said the program seems to be “a good one” but is concerned parents were not advised prior to its launch.
“It seems as if the opportunity to be nominated is given to a few and not all students,” Parker said. “Teachers should notify all parents of this opportunity and allow the student to work hard for the nomination. The process should be fair, not discriminatory.”
Although Maxwell said he has no knowledge of how the selection process was conducted, he said he thinks the group is “diverse,” displaying different skill sets and coming from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.
“It seems that someone intentionally worked to make sure that all folks were represented,” Maxwell said.
Neither high school was part of the selection process. Maxwell said out of the nearly 900 students in Clarke County High Schools, the selected group is small in comparison, a possible area of contention among those not selected. He said his administration has not received any complaints from parents.
Parker said she plans on questioning her son’s school staff about Georgia Possible in hopes of addressing her questions and concerns.
Although UGA is a partner for Georgia Possible, Means made it clear that students will not be persuaded to attend UGA specifically. He said the students will be advised regardless of where they decide to go to college.
Means also said although there is no set plan in place for students who may decide to drop out, he understands the program may not be the best fit for all young people chosen.