LAGRANGE — Last year, Troup County students on average scored 26 points below the state on the SAT, and 64 points below the national average, according to Georgia Department of Education data.
A group of friends saw the trend and decided it was time to do something to help local students improve their scores and college prospects. They reached out to LaGrange College and connected with Rob Dicks, director of athletic training, who helped pull together about a dozen college students with high SAT and ACT scores to tutor and mentor high schoolers getting ready for the test.
“I put the word out to some athletes that I work with and some former athletes” to recruit, Dicks said. The candidates “got right back to me and were ready and willing to go.”
Williemae Callaway is CEO of the group, Greater Achievement Youth Empowerment Academy Inc. She served on the commissioner of labor’s task force for several years. Her role led her to talk to students about the importance of staying in school to bolster their preparation for employment after high school.
“Youth is my passion, so I got really involved in it,” she said.
When she and others started formulating the tutoring plan, they decided to draw from a previous program.
“This program has been done before in the Atlanta area,” she said. “And one thing they did was partner with a college or technical college. We chose LaGrange College because we felt that they have the students we need to get this done.”
The Greater Achievement group realized they also needed to help prepare the high school students for the transition into college life.
“A lot of parents are busy working and don’t really get in the know about how to get their kids into college, what they need,” Callaway said. “Because once those kids walk across the threshold of college, mom and dad, to that college, doesn’t exist.”
When students are suddenly tasked by professors to keep up with their tests and studying without oversight, even good students can find themselves coming home early, Callaway said. The Greater Achievement group hopes having current college students not only teach SAT and ACT preparation, but give firsthand accounts of the trials and transition into college life can help prepare the younger students for their next steps.
“I think that what makes this program bigger than just SAT and ACT prep — that’s where these (college) students can become big brother, big sister and they (the high schoolers) can ask those questions,” Dicks said. “They can ask, ‘Well, how was your first year of college?’ ‘What type of roadblocks or hurdles did you have to jump?’ ‘How much did you have to study for this class or that class?’
“So I think bringing in the college-age students who are doing it right now — and we have a couple of freshmen, also, who just got into it themselves — they can give them the knowledge of ‘be ready for this, be ready for that,’ and you can’t really get that anywhere else.”
Greater Achievement also aims to help inform students and parents about all the forms necessary to apply to and enter college, as well as seeking out scholarship opportunities.
“They don’t recognize there’s free money out there,” Dicks said. “They don’t know that. They don’t know that every time you fill out an application there is a way to send that for free, rather than pay $30.”
Noted Callaway: “That’s where we come in, to make sure they’re prepared for the entrance to college and to make sure they have everything they need, and the parents — to educate the parents to help educate the students to be able to better. … Some of these students are going off to school in six months and may not have a checking account or know how to use it. They are about to embark on a new journey and need some tools to master it.”
Callaway said Greater Achievement Youth Empowerment Academy Inc. has partnered with the Troup County School System to seek high school candidates to participate in the tutoring. The first set of high school students were expected to participate in a workshop this weekend.
Anyone seeking more information may call the Greater Achievement office at 706-884-1854.
Matthew Strother is the editor of LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2153.