Throughout nearly 40 years in teaching, Lynda Jackson has learned there is no typical student.
They can’t all afford to dedicate eight hours a day to the classroom or show up on time. There’s the teenager with a baby, the son who is his family’s sole breadwinner or the dropout who is dozens of credits behind.
For students whose situations make it easier to drop out than stay in school, the Richmond County School System has started a program to help. The Performance Learning Center, open since August, offers a four-hour school day so students can graduate at their own pace.
“It’s really a godsend,” said Jackson, a social studies and history teacher at the center. “This is the last stop before we would lose them. They get another shot here, and we get to help them.”
The center opened this summer through a partnership with the school system and Communities in Schools, a nonprofit in 27 states that provides services to students with immediate needs.
The center is on the second floor of the Tubman Education Center on Walton Way and has seven teachers who work with 137 students.
To get into the program, students must show they have circumstances that make traditional public school a bad fit.
“The reality is, the regular school setting doesn’t fit every student’s situation,” said Andre Mountain, the center’s substitute academic director.
Students can come in the program at any time and in any grade. Students have a mix of online and traditional learning to catch up.
Because there is a steady stream of students, teachers teach by content and needs rather than by grade.
Students have the option of finishing school at the center or returning to their regular schools when they are caught up. When graduation day comes, students can return to their schools to walk across the stage.
“Their graduations count toward their home school, so, for the graduation rate in this county, this is an opportunity to affect that number in a good way,” Mountain said.
Jackson said just being in the program has raised many students’ self-esteem.
“Our students that are behind, they don’t want to go to a school as a 17-or 18-year-old and sit in the ninth-grade classroom with 15-year-olds,” Jackson said.
Because the center offers two four-hour sessions each day, teenagers with children or who have full-time jobs can fix their school schedules around their other responsibilities.
The center is confined to one hallway with five classrooms. The close quarters and small groups keep discipline problems low, Jackson said.
Of the five students who have completed their high school requirements at the center since August, four went on to college and one joined the military.
In the future, site service provider Regina Reid said, the center will implement a mentoring program, job shadowing, community service projects and dual enrollment courses.
The program isn’t a typical high school, with drama club and homeroom, but it’s just what some need, Jackson said.
“I’ve seen the light come on for some of these kids,” she said. “I really have.”