Richmond County alternative programs offer students new path to education

Jazmine Haisley will be back on her normal grade level at Lucy C. Laney High School next school year, and she credits a new Learning Options program for getting her there.

"It's helping me get to the 10th grade," she said.

The program, which is offered at the Tubman Education Center on Bungalow Road, was started this school year in Richmond County and is designed to offer catch-up work for selected middle and high school students who are not on grade level.

The program is unique in that it allows participants to access a computer program four hours a day and learn material at their own pace. A teacher is in the class only to assist should students have questions.

"You teach yourself the material ... It's whatever you put into it," said participant Charles Driggers, who has earned 12 high school credits since starting the program in October and now plans to graduate high school this year.

Driggers and Haisley say the program works well because it allows students to spend as much time as needed on a topic.

The county added another alternative education offering last year -- a pilot program between the Richmond County School System and the Youth Challenge Academy at Fort Gordon.

The pilot, which this month graduated its second class of students, pairs the school system with the 22-week quasi-military program through which at-risk students live at the academy and take physical training along with classes.

Before the pilot, the academy accepted students at the request of a parent or parole officer, and it allowed participants to achieve their GED, said Winnette Bradley, the school system's director of alternative education. The new pilot program, she said, allows school administrators to recommend a student, and the participant can earn a regular diploma.

Eighteen-year-old Antwon Mahone graduated from the pilot program earlier this month and said it took him out of a bad environment. He said before Youth Challenge, he was constantly getting into trouble, serving three stints at the county's alternative school. Just three years ago, he was shot in the stomach.

"(Youth Challenge) taught me respect -- to have manners for others and, most importantly, to be responsible," he said. The program's structured schedule has students lining up in formation at 4:30 a.m., conducting physical training and attending "really focused" classes, and he liked it, he said.

Officials say they're also seeing progress with the school system's evening center, which has been offered for several years at the Tubman Education Center for adult dropouts looking to earn credits toward a diploma.

"I think it's more successful now," said the center's principal, Tonia Mason.

Recently, the school system set goals to be accomplished by May for all three programs. The first is for the Learning Options program to increase the number of credits earned per student to at least four. The second is to graduate 80 percent of the students in the pilot Youth Challenge program. And the final goal is to graduate 15 percent of evening center students who have been enrolled since 2001.

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