- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Four years ago, Mackenzie Moore and Bobbie Jo Terrell, who are now seniors at Edgewood High School, weren’t so sure about their futures.

As freshmen, Moore wasn’t doing well in her classes and Terrell was struggling to earn the credits to graduate in four years.

Talk to them today, and Terrell and Moore have plans to finish high school and even go to college. What’s made them turn around?

They credit graduation coach Patty Goldman, a full-time Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce employee who meets with the students one-on-one each week to talk grades, career plans and anything else that’s on their minds.

“I can talk to her about anything,” Terrell told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/1uY1DRF ).

It wasn’t always that way. Terrell’s freshman and sophomore years, she didn’t want to listen. It was in her junior year that Goldman really set her straight. “She cracked down on me and helped me. I wasn’t on track to graduate on time,” Terrell said. “I didn’t care to get my education.”

With Goldman’s guidance, Terrell enrolled in the classes she needed, and now she plans to walk across the stage at commencement on time. She even plans to save up money to attend college after graduation.

“It made me open my eyes to see it’s good to go to school and get an education. You can make it fun, if you try,” Terrell said.

In meetings with Moore, Goldman helped her get focused on her grades. Since meeting with her graduation coach as a freshman, Moore hasn’t failed a class.

“She brings me in here once a week, wrings my neck, and tells me what I need to do,” Moore said with a laugh. “I call her mom a lot.”

Moore said Goldman makes her feel comfortable, and after she started meeting with her, she went from dreading school to pushing through it. After graduation, Moore plans to attend college, a goal that never meant as much to her before.

Goldman has been a part of the chamber’s graduation coach program since 2008, and Melanie Humbard, who began in 2011, will meet weekly with students this year from Bloomington high schools North and South and Edgewood High School. The students are suggested for the program by school officials based on their grade point average, attendance or personal or social issues. Most of them are enrolled in the free and reduced-priced lunch program.

“A lot of our students have been to one, two or all of the schools in this county, not necessarily because they’re searching for academic fit, but because leases are up or eviction notices were served. … We work to help provide a little bit of continuity to those students,” Macy Hughes, the chamber’s director of workforce initiatives, told the MCCSC school board at a recent meeting.

The Chamber’s program, established in 2007 as part of the Franklin Initiative, is designed to reduce dropout rates, and it used to have three coaches and serve more students, but due to funding challenges, the number of graduation coaches has been reduced.

“We rely heavily on grants and community contributions,” Hughes said. For four years, the funding was stable, but the grants previously used are no longer available.

The Franklin Initiative is a nonprofit organization and receives funding help to keep it stable through pledges from individuals and businesses. Hughes said without fundraising, the graduation coach program could be at risk in the future.

“The work has to be maintained in order for us to continue to graduate kids,” Hughes said.

“I don’t want this program to go, because it works,” Goldman said.

In the 2013-14 school year, of the 210 students assigned a graduation coach, 204 either graduated or advanced to the next grade, and only six dropped out, according to Hughes.

“That’s a retention/completion rate of 97 percent,” she said in an email. “Our students’ average GPA was 1.664, and 17 percent of them were on court-ordered probation. Last year, 55 percent of the students on our caseload improved their GPAs.”

Goldman and Humbard see many of the students through all four years of school and build relationships with them.

“It warms your heart to see them graduate,” Humbard said. Some of her students have kept in touch after graduation and continue to let her know about their progress.

“They know they’ve got someone in their corner, and their attitude is more positive,” Goldman said.

From Moore and Terrell’s point of view, students like them would struggle without the graduation coach program.

“I think a lot of kids would slip, and they wouldn’t graduate on time,” Terrell said.

___

Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com


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