By the time I heard that NASSP President Gregg Wieczorek was planning to visit schools in every state, he had already stopped in Georgia. I wish I had known sooner because I would have jumped at the opportunity to have Gregg visit Lumpkin County High School. Our school offers many innovative and exceptional opportunities for students. And I’m a big believer in sharing.
One thing that makes our school special is that each student has an individualized graduation plan. Part of what makes those plans successful is that our students are heavily involved in Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways. The path they follow is up to them, but they all participate in at least one pathway while in high school. A pathway is a series of three or four courses in the same area, and 83% of our students choose one of our CTE programs for their pathway.
We take the kids who are at the high end academically, and we engage them in our CTE programs just the same as we engage kids who will never set foot in college after they graduate high school. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of here in Dahlonega, Georgia.
One of our most popular programs is the music production pathway. Country superstar Zac Brown graduated from our high school back in the mid-1990s, and our current instructor, Radford Windham, graduated with him. He works with our students in the one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art Zac Brown recording studio, where they not only make their own music but produce it and publish it on all the streaming services like Spotify and iTunes. At one of our homecoming events this year, we were able to hire a music production student as the DJ instead of a company. Our student made the same amount of money we would have paid to a company from Atlanta to come DJ our dance, but our student did a better job. In our high school, students are learning things that they can use to make a living the day they graduate.
If you visit our school, you’ll see a lot of hands-on experiences in classrooms and labs since hands-on learning is what makes learning stick with the kids. We want them in labs four days a week, and any form of lecture or traditional book work must be balanced out by four times as much lab work.
A lot of the things we do for our students are not cheap, but we have very strong support from our superintendent and our board of education. Some things might be expensive, but when you look at the end results for the kids, that’s what makes a difference, and that’s why our district is willing to fund our programs. We are also fortunate to have community support from businesses, organizations, and individuals. They see our success, and they want to be a part of it.
When other districts say they just don’t have the funds to do what we are doing, we quickly remind them that we are a Title I district, and we also do things that require almost no resources. One of our most popular events each year is called Adulting Day. Volunteers come to our school to teach the students about everything from how to change a tire to how to plunge a toilet. Although Adulting Day teaches our students some hard skills that we believe they need in order to be successful, our Capstone Day teaches them some of the soft skills they need to make good impressions, secure the job they want, and then budget their income responsibly.
When we do something like Adulting Day or Capstone Day, we invite superintendents from around the state to come and observe. Last year on both these special days, we had representatives from over 25 districts join us for a professional development day to see it in person.
We are now five or six years into several of these innovative programs. Because we have seen them make a difference for our students, we want other school districts to benefit from our tried-and-true experiences.