Pine Hill Middle and Cross Creek High schools collaborated to form the South Augusta 8.5 Initiative, approved by the Richmond County Board of Education on Sept. 18.
The program allows the retained students to essentially dual-enroll in eighth and ninth grade. If they complete their credits and pass the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, the students will move straight to 10th grade next year.
The goal is to keep the students from entering ninth grade at an older age when they might be discouraged from their setback and drop out, Cross Creek Principal Jason Moore said.
“It gives them more hope,” Moore said. “When you’re
a 15-year-old about to turn
16 in ninth grade, your academics might be pretty good but because of your self-
esteem you don’t want to come to school. This (program) helps them stay with their peers.”
The district first tried the program in 2008 with a group of about 16 Hephzibah Middle School students who were held back but allowed to take classes at Hephzibah High and progress to the 10th grade the next year.
Michael Howard, a senior at Cross Creek who was part of the Hephzibah group, said it helped him keep his confidence while catching up.
Michael was ready to move on to high school but was held back because of challenges with math. He is now the president of Cross Creek’s FFA chapter and plans to attend East Georgia College when he graduates.
“It taught us to be more responsible because high school classes are harder,” Michael said.
The Pine Hill students, who are beginning their third week in the program, take math, science, social studies and English/language arts at the middle school campus, according to Pine Hill Principal Glenda Collingsworth.
They are bused to Cross Creek around 11 a.m., where they eat lunch and finish their day with math, world geography or American government, and one Career Technical and Agricultural Education course.
Executive Director of High Schools Lynn Warr said she would like to implement the program at more schools, but transportation issues could hold it back.
She said the program helps students progress but also helps schools maintain graduation rates, which is a win-win for the children and the district.
“A lot of kids like that, when they get that age and are held back, they feel like failures,” Warr said. “You give them a ray of hope like this and they know they can catch up.”
The students are required to take summer 2013 courses. In the worse case scenario, if the students don’t fulfill academic requirements, they will return next year as eighth-grade students, Collingsworth said.
The principal has already seen improvements academically and behaviorally, however.
“We’re excited about it, and the kids are excited,” Collingsworth said. “I haven’t seen a spark like this in some time in these children.”