High school graduation rates in Georgia have been on the rise in recent years, but the metro-Atlanta area continues to struggle. Students are often pressed by poverty, difficult family life and other discouraging situations that tend to take precedence over education in their lives. Project GRAD Atlanta, which was developed in 2000, was created to be an agent of change for these students. They collaborate with six middle schools and 10 high schools in the Atlanta area to help students set their sights high—not only encouraging them to complete high school, but to become first generation college students.
Project GRAD’s annual summer camp, which includes academic programs as well as an introduction to college life, was held during June at several colleges in the Atlanta area. Oglethorpe partnered with Project GRAD Atlanta to conduct a residential program in which 53 students from the metro-Atlanta area had the opportunity to get a glimpse into the lives of Oglethorpe students. From June 2-22, the high schoolers lived on campus, attended their own set of classes and interacted with current Oglethorpe students and Oglethorpe Center for Civic Engagement volunteers.
Together with the CCE, they learned about leadership through service by spending an afternoon volunteering with Books for Africa, a nonprofit that Oglethorpe has worked closely with for several years. Alicia Morris, program coordinator for the CCE, commented on the richness of the volunteer experience: “I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer at Books for Africa with Project GRAD students and I was thrilled to see how much fun and how excited the students were to volunteer. Students were climbing into boxes and working in teams to accomplish their goals.”
I was among a group of Oglethorpe students, including Jess Lill ’15, Allyson Terry ’14, Brian Cornelius ’15 and Christian Langston ’15, who led small group sessions with the students to speak with them about preparing for college and the benefits of higher education. I personally enjoyed the opportunity to help these students visualize their potential futures at Oglethorpe and other universities around the world. While speaking with them about the possibilities of internships, studying abroad, and picking a major, I could see the wheels turning in their minds as they envisioned their future goals. Panels like this are a part of the social services Project GRAD Atlanta provides to students from traditionally disadvantaged communities to show them some possibilities in their future academic pursuits.
Through their partnership with PGA, Oglethorpe hopes to help inspire students to find the potential in themselves to continue their education and achieve graduation in high school and in college. “Oglethorpe supports education at every level and is actively involved in helping students graduate from high school,” said Heather Staniszewski ’02, associate director of Oglethorpe’s Center for Civic Engagement. “Oglethorpe has been a host site for Project GRAD Summer Institute since 2007 and we are proud of our relationship with Project GRAD Atlanta.”
In addition to their summer programs and partnerships, Project GRAD has awarded over $2.3 million in scholarships to assist students in reaching their goals.