Gail Daniel is beaming about the immediate success of her program at Upson-Lee High School.
Daniel, graduation coach for ULHS, can't help but be proud of her students and mentors as they have seen immediate approval.
The mentoring program, called Knights 101, places freshmores (students between freshman and sophomore status) with teachers, administrators, and counselors. Out of that number, about 10 students are starting freshmen.
The program began shortly before midterms last semester, but the end of semester numbers are something to be proud of, according to Daniel.
“We finished the semester with 32 students passing all four classes and 27 students passing three out of four,” she said. “No one failed all the courses, and that is something to always be happy about. We've also seen an improvement in attendance and behavior.”
Cleve Hendrix, ULHS Principal, says the program is a great benefit to his school.
“These were students who were passing nothing and were struggling,” he said. “Now they have something to be proud of. Those numbers are impressive for this program to be as young as it is.
“The mentors have truly gone beyond the call to help these students. Gail Daniel has truly gone beyond the call of her job. She is a great resource for our students.”
Hendrix oversees the day to day activities at ULHS but also serves as a mentor in Daniel's program.
“Everything we do is about helping kids and making our community a better place,” he said. “It's amazing to see the rise in self-esteem for these students.”
Daniel can barely sit still as she excitedly talks about what she has planned for these students.
Recently, she attended a meeting for graduation coaches across the state and was asked to speak several times about the mentoring program at ULHS. Daniel also did a spot on a local television station in Macon to highlight the local program.
“Wanda Creel [Director of School Improvement for the State] asked me to do the TV spot,” Daniel said. “At first I only told people at my table, but eventually I was telling everyone.”
Daniel said the program couldn't be as effective without the dedication of mentors and support of the community.
“I'm really proud of our teachers, principals and counselors for getting on board and taking it seriously,” she said. “I thought it would take at least a year to really get this going.
“Teachers have really gone the extra mile. They have taken them to movies, will eat lunch with them and help them with projects.
“They aren't just watching; they are becoming involved in these students' lives. That is what it takes. These students need that one-on-one attention.
“We just want to get students on track to graduate,” she said. “The goal is to get them ready to enter the workforce or to continue their education.
“We want to see them leave here with a diploma in their hands, ready to face the future.
“This isn't just a school issue,” she said with a serious look. “The entire community is affected by what happens here. If students drop out, the community pays the price. We have to give these students an education.
“We need community support,” Daniel said. “We want these students to know they have outside support.
“Community mentors are so important because they bring something to kids that they don't necessarily get from teachers. They need to know people in the community care.
“They think we are doing this because we get paid, but when when someone from the community comes in and shows they care, that means a lot. At-risk kids are not motivated by consequences or being made to feel guilty. They feel that already.
“What motivates them is putting them in the spotlight. We can give them that one-on-one attention and let them know someone cares.”
Thomaston-Upson School Superintendent Dr. Howard Hendley helped recognize students recently at a pizza party at ULHS in an effort to show students they are proud.
Daniel is excited about what the program has accomplished, but isn't finished yet. That's why she has asked Virginia Bonner's transition class, made up of freshman, to write a survival guide for upcoming freshman next year.
“It needs to start before they get in the door,” she said. “We are going to deliver the guide to every eighth grader. We hope to smooth the transition.”
Eventually Daniel hopes to have upperclassmen become mentors to students.
Daniel says she has students coming into her office asking for a mentor.
“If they want a mentor, I will find them one,” she said. “We have to do whatever possible for our students.”
There have been bumps in the road as Daniel constantly works to get money to pay for medicine, taxis, and even emergency housing for students, but students are reaping the reward. That's why she is all smiles.