The number of students in Richmond County public schools hasn't changed much in the past year.
But about one in three of those students likely has changed schools at least once in that time.
According to district data, 32,426 students were enrolled at the end of the first nine-week period, which was Oct. 8 . That was only 34 fewer students than at the same time last year. Look at the individual school enrollments, though, and a different picture emerges .
Take Lucy C. Laney High School, which had 757 students after the first marking period last year and 729 this year. At least 100 students transfer red from other high schools during the summer under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires low-performing schools to allow students to move to a higher-performing one , said school system spokesman Lou Svehla.
Laney fit that standard in part because of the wholesale changes it is making - such as replacing about half of its teaching staff - as part of the federal $1 million School Improvement Grant it received. Laney also attracted some transfer students because of its Academy for Advanced Placement Studies magnet program, which is available to all Richmond County students this year for the first time.
Despite that, in the first nine weeks alone, Laney has seen 289 students withdraw, Svehla said. Of those, 188 transferred to another Richmond County public school.
Such situations play out all over the county.
"Last year, after the first nine weeks, we had 10,000 students with a withdrawal code, and many of them moved (to another school) within our county," he said. "We've always talked about the transient nature of our area, but this puts a stamp on how transient our population really is."
This transiency is nothing new in urban school districts. A 1993 study of the Austin Independent School District in Texas presented to the American Education Research Association showed a strong correlation between families living in poverty and students changing schools.
Other studies done before and since throughout the country have shown similar results.
Reasons for such mobility can be many, but an example would be parents moving from place to place because they can't afford to pay the rent, so they get evicted. Another scenario might be a parent who sends the child to a grandparent, who after a short time sends the child to an aunt or uncle.
Mobility also includes students who move in or out of the area because of a parent's job change or other circumstances.
Richmond County already has a higher number of those instances because of Fort Gordon and its relatively transient military population.
Students who move frequently can have a more difficult time retaining what they are taught in school, according to research. Highly mobile students also have a greater chance of dropping out of school early.
"It makes it difficult for teachers and staff to form relationships with students, and it's difficult for students who move a lot to form relationships with their teachers," Svehla said.
"One school may be ahead of another school in teaching the curriculum. And not all schools offer the same classes."