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A reminder of what’s right in education

POSTED: May 19, 2014 4:58 p.m.

This is the time of year for school year-end banquets and awards programs. Attending some of these always reminds me of what is working very well in education and what ingredients make for success for many, many young people.

At a FFA banquet last week, I was so impressed with the accomplishments of the members involved and with the work they had put into serving their school and community. Going hand-in-hand was the dedication of the adults who work with the groups and the heart-felt pride they felt at the mature, organized and articulate young leaders these young people had grown to become. Stories are always told of shy, introverted club members whose personality and poise grew as they moved through leadership positions in the organization.

I could not help thinking about where those young people would be in their development if they had not been exposed to this club.

Last week, I sat with two young ladies accompanied by the parents of one of the students. The other young lady told me she had already finished her first year at Georgia Southern and was an honor student but had come back to the FFA banquet to receive an award for a state victory in competition.

What floored me was their answer when I asked them both about their plans for college. Both are or will be chemistry majors and plan on getting pharmacy degrees at nearby South College School of Pharmacy in Savannah after receiving core courses at GSU. In case you have not checked lately, I am told that pharmacists right out of college start out north of $90,000 yearly.

But for some kids, a huge win is simply to stay in school, graduate and have a plan for the future beyond high school.  Georgia’s overall graduation rate is about 70 percent and the measuring methodology keeps changing. But one thing is clear — Georgia’s rate could stand much improvement. My point is, if we examine all of these programs that involve school kids in positive, self-improvement programs, which most often involve adult participation on a daily basis, I am pretty sure we will see the graduation rates near 90 percent and above for participants in these programs.

Keeping these kids busy with projects and competition does something else, too. It keeps these students out of trouble and mischief although there is no lack of spirit in many of these activities. Just ask Extension agents and others who have chaperoned trips to camp at Rock Eagle how little sleep kids can get by on.

I have seen so many young people find the structure and mission they looked for in Junior ROTC programs, which are booming in area schools. Whether they go on to join the military as many do or not, they stay in school, they learn some self-discipline and how to set goals in their lives. A local JROTC instructor tells me normally 100 percent of seniors graduate.

I visited a year-end luncheon of the FBLA and FFA clubs of a school in the area a couple of weeks ago. They ran the program, presented awards, presented videos of club activities and just really impressed me with a culturally diverse group of young leaders. All who were graduating, by the way, had a plan for next year that involved furthering their education. The most impressive part was, they had a plan.

Here’s some updated information that bears out my point: Georgia 4-H lists a 92 percent graduation rate with 170,568 total students participating. Georgia’s FFA membership is third-highest in the country at 34,244 participants.

I am told by the state FFA office the graduation rate for FFA members in 2010 was 95.4 percent. JROTC programs produce thousands of dollars in scholarships and in the  2012-13 school year, members earned 31 service academy appointments, $2.6 million in HOPE scholarships, $11.8 million in ROTC scholarships and $27 million in other scholarships.

Georgia has the largest state Future Business Leaders Association (FBLA) membership in the country at 25,000. Among their achievements is the ongoing effort to raise funds for the March of Dimes, with the total over eight years exceeding $350,000.

Maybe we as state leaders should be paying more attention to the success of these programs and to the students they produce. What is the value of adults on school campuses who look students in the eye daily, know whether they did their homework that day, or better still, are spending time with them after hours as the members work on self-improvement projects for local, regional, state or national competition or service?

Finally, there seems to be a strong bond between the adults in these programs and parents. Alumni groups exist for almost all the clubs and help direct resources and recognition to the group. Do you think that message resonates with kids?  I do. These groups and others are succeeding. The question is, how do we reach the rest?

I may be reached at
234 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334
(404) 656-5038 (phone)
(404) 657-7092 (fax)
E-mail at Jack.Hill@senate.ga.gov
Or call toll-free at
1-800-367-3334 day or night
Reidsville office: (912) 557-3811

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