Graduation coach keeps kids focused on future

THS graduation rate increases
Jan. 30, 2013 @ 10:11 AM

Fresh off the heels of experiencing a significant increase in Thomasville High School’s graduation rate last year, principal Deboy Beamon wanted to do more. In an effort to keep improving on a graduation rate that jumped from 63 to 77 percent in 2011-12, Beamon and Thomasville City Schools Superintendent Keith Tobin wanted to bring in someone who works directly with students who are in danger of dropping out.
“We needed to figure out a way to keep those kids in school before they get too far behind,” Beamon said. “We send out a call when a kid misses school, but I thought we needed to take it a little further.”
Starting this school year, Joyce Vaughan is serving as the first full-time graduation coach, focusing her time on the identification of at-risk students and formulating a plan to get them back on track toward earning a high school diploma.
“I tell them you have to own this,” said Vaughan. “I tell students all the time that you are worth the investment in you. You should not leave THS without a high school diploma because ... you will realize, probably in less than 30 days, that you have denied yourself an opportunity to advance.”
Having worked with the SOAR program for eight months, Vaughan is no stranger to the THS landscape. The SOAR program helps students recover credits after school in order to graduate, but Vaughan’s new role is more about prevention and intervention. Once a student misses three days in a semester, Vaughan’s job is to find out why and come up with a plan to get them back in school and on course toward graduation.
Vaughan sees as many as three dozens students a week who have missed too many days, and said there are a variety of reasons why they don’t come to school. She feels building relationships with students and parents is crucial so they understand how important finishing high school is to a young person.
“I approach [parents] as I’m trying to assist you with your child because we both realize that high school graduation needs to be a priority,” Vaughan said. "A lot of students have developed that, for whatever reason, education isn’t important. My No. 1 topic with parents is the importance of education.”
Much of Vaughan‘s work also is aimed at keeping students and parents from appearing in truancy court. Vaughan said there have been a few instances where students continued missing school, forcing her to involve juvenile justice and the court system.
“My job is to keep it from getting to that point,” said Vaughan. “There have been some struggles. I want to know that when I do that court referral that I have tried my best to make contact and talk about this. Even though we encourage their motivation to excel and accept responsibility for their academics, they have made their minds up about some things, too. We’ve all been there. You think you know it all. Life is an excellent teacher. It will teach you the same lesson over and over again and never raise its voice.”
Beamon wanted Vaughan to focus her attention on underclassmen, particularly the Freshmen Academy. A high percentage of dropouts begin showing signs in the ninth grade, and Beamon said keeping freshmen involved and at school gives them a better chance of graduating with their peers.
“If we can get them here we feel they’re going to be successful,” Beamon said. “If we can save them as freshmen, that’s when it starts. When they start missing school and getting behind as freshmen, not getting promoted, then chances are they’re not going to graduate. If we can keep them as freshmen, get them promoted and they mature and realize life is real without digging a hole for themselves, we got something.”
By focusing on underclassmen, Vaughan said THS can create a culture among students, resulting in an even higher graduation rate. The THS dropout rate declined last year, and Vaughan said her goal is to help as many students as possible.
“If we can start turning it around for ninth graders, we’ll start seeing a progression,” said Vaughan. “We want our graduation rate as high as possible.”
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or