EDITOR'S NOTE: Crystal Milligan was featured in a series about high school dropouts that appeared in the May 27 and 28 editions of The Augusta Chronicle. This story follows her progress since then.
Crystal Milligan can, as her mother puts it, live again.
Her life, hopes and dreams were put on hold because of Georgia's high school exit exam. Failing the test prevented her from earning a diploma, getting a job and entering the military.
Four times she took the science portion of the four-part Georgia High School Graduation Test, the part that has proved the most difficult for students statewide. Four times the Butler High School student came up short.
She didn't on the fifth time. Ms. Milligan learned last month that she passed the test administered in July.
"Not only can I go to school, I can get a job," Ms. Milligan, 18, said Friday.
Gloria Milligan said her daughter was becoming depressed, wasn't talking much and began growing indifferent, but she kept pushing her.
"From getting the diploma, I've seen a real change in her," Mrs. Milligan said.
Her daughter plans to sign up for the Army Reserves and enroll in college to study public relations or nursing.
"She would still be waiting. She could do nothing (without a diploma)," Mrs. Milligan said.
According to the Georgia Department of Education, more than 20,000 juniors failed the science portion of the test last year. That's more than any other section of the test. About 700 of them were from Richmond County.
"It's about persistence," said Stacey Mabray, Richmond County's science coordinator.
The county is working on several initiatives to raise achievement in science, she said.
Last school year, Richmond County implemented its academic reform plan to raise the standards for all high school students and provide extra funding for science labs, Ms. Mabray said.
A lab manual was also developed to ensure students across the county are exposed to a uniform set of basic experiments, Ms. Mabray said. Pre-testing is performed to find out early where students are struggling, she said.
The state's new curriculum and graduation requirements should also bolster science scores, Ms. Mabray said.
What made the difference for Ms. Milligan was her summer school teacher, Mary Jo Godfrey.
The Hephzibah Middle School teacher said she uses pre-testing to determine weak areas. She then drills her students on the information to make sure it is clear.
Mrs. Godfrey said motivation is also important.
"You've got to believe in yourself," she said. "When you've already taken this test two, three, four times, you're beaten down."
Mrs. Godfrey challenged students to continue their class work at home.
Ms. Milligan did, her mother said. Instead of going out, she stayed home and studied.
"Every chance I got I looked over the notes," Ms. Milligan said.
It paid off.
"She's on her way to get her life started because it was on hold for a bit," Mrs. Milligan said.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richmond County science coordinator Stacey Mabray said resources are available for those who never passed the Georgia High School Graduation Test. People can enroll in summer school, use school system software and pick up science resource packets from her office. For more information, call the science department at (706) 826-1102.