Absenteeism leads to dropping out of school, and without a high school diploma, it's tough to earn a living.
But recently released statistics show that Richmond and Columbia counties, and the state, are doing a better job of keeping students in schools.
High school graduation rates are improving, but poverty remains a problem, according to the 2005 Georgia Kids Count report.
The report compiled data in the areas of healthy children, school readiness, school success, strong families and self-sufficient families and found significant disparities from county to county.
Just earning a high school diploma is "no longer an option if they want to have any form of success," said Dr. Sandra Carraway, the Columbia County assistant superintendent for student services.
Students are given something to work toward in Columbia County schools, she said.
As early as eighth grade, orientations are held to educate pupils about high school and post-high school options. Career counselors at each high school work with students to help them with those options.
Dr. Carraway said the school system no longer views high school as the end.
"With most businesses today, having a high school diploma is just the beginning," she said.
There's a correlation between those who skip school and those who graduate, Dr. Carraway said.
The state's new attendance policy, which is bringing together the community, court system and school system, will be a "huge factor" in getting students to graduate, Dr. Carraway said.
Georgia Kids Count statistics show improvements in both areas for the state and for Richmond and Columbia counties.
Kids Count, a national project which tracks the status of children in the United States, is sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to influence public policies and human service reforms that affect children and families.
Richmond County has climbed from No. 76 in the state in 2002 to No. 60 in 2004 for high school graduation rates.
Columbia County is ranked 15th in the state.
Dr. Carraway cautioned that Georgia's high school graduation rates might appear lower than they actually are because of the way the rates are calculated.
Schools are given credit for students who begin in the ninth grade and finish in the 12th grade, but they can be hurt by transiency. If schools don't get documentation showing that a student enrolled at another school, then it's recorded that the student didn't graduate from the previous school, although the student could graduate from the new school.
Even with that, the number of Georgia teens who are high school dropouts has decreased from 16 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2003, according to Georgia Kids Count.
Karen Mobley, the associate director of Augusta State University's Career Center, has worked on projects to motivate them to attend college.
Students shouldn't wait until their junior or senior year in high school to prepare for college, but instead should begin preparing in elementary and middle school, Ms. Mobley said.
It's important for them to learn about the course work necessary for the career paths they choose and even shadow people with those jobs.
The challenge comes in getting students to make the connection between what they do today and their future, she said. Many lose motivation, not sure how school work will make a difference in their lives.
To change this, she has talked with them about professionals they admire and what it takes to get a job in those professions. Students are even "starting to grasp a better understanding" of athletes and entertainers with their big salaries, recognizing that they are the exceptions rather than the rule.
Ms. Mobley said it also helps to have children work with their parents on the household budget, so that they can see how jobs affect lifestyles.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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