Crystal Jones didn't mind getting out of bed Saturday morning to listen to lectures because the information she gathered could change the course of her life.
"I didn't consider this to be school classes," said the 15-year-old Harlem High School sophomore. "It's good to learn how to be successful, now to be confident and reach goals. This is helping me, because I know I want to be something, so that's why I came."
Crystal was one of about 50 Richmond County students to participate in the third annual Back-to-School Summit at Paine College, sponsored by the Male Room Foundation.
The purpose of the forum was to help students solve problems they encounter in the classroom as they move into a new school year, said Oz Nesbitt, Male Room's founder.
"Today was a recap of the past and a glimpse at the future school year," he said. "We believe this is a super opportunity for us to find out the primary needs of the students. We're letting them know it's time to put their thinking caps back on."
The goal of the Male Room is to support the school system in its endeavors to improve test scores and education in every aspect, from attitudes to parent involvement, he said.
"We do outreach projects that focus on education and social skills," he said. "Social skills is an area that students are lacking in."
During the summit, students were divided into groups by elementary, middle and high school grade levels.
Facilitators covered a variety of topics, tailoring the sessions to fit the age groups. The younger children talked about problems with spelling and how to ignore classmates who tease them. Middle students discussed ways to improve self-esteem, while the older students talked about hard-hitting issues, like drugs and sex.
"Don't think you can smoke a little weed and that's it," Elmer Falls, chief of police for Paine College, told the high school students. "Once you move onto the next thing, it's over ... You are either going to be out there selling your body or killing your momma and daddy or you can decide to do something with your life."
Shay Wilkes, a 16-year-old student at T.W. Josey High School, said the information he received at the summit last year made him eager to participate again. He said he improved his attitude last school year, after attending the summit.
"They told us to focus on paying attention in class and it would be easier and that's what I did," he said. "They told us it was time to stop acting immature and get serious. And the discussions about drugs and sex - I was listening closely."
For the younger students, the challenges seemed to be conquering reading, spelling and math. Some Richmond County school teachers offered suggestions to the students and parents.
The key to improvement in any of those areas is self-esteem, said Mr. Nesbitt's wife, Levetta Nesbitt, a fourth-grade teacher at Barton Chapel Elementary School.
"You just have to encourage them and find one little thing they do and pump that up," she told a parent concerned about her daughter's slow reading skills.