By LYDIA BERGLAR
The Dade County High School Class of 2023 received a total of $2,663,946 in scholarship offers from colleges. Local businesses and community members gave $43,250 of this total. Principal Brent Cooper and guidance counselors Amanda Clark and James Emmett thank the Dade County community for supporting students in their pursuit of further education and training.
Last year, the Class of 2022 received a record high of just over $3 million in scholarship offers, but the Class of 2023 kept the number high, compared to the roughly $1 million from previous years.
While this number is the total amount offered and may not all be accepted, it indicates the effort that students put into applications. For example, Kendyl Phillips received offers from a staggering 18 schools, totaling $1,305,596. Cooper noted, “If you apply, there are colleges who are willing to give money.”
Of the total 143 graduates, 57% plan to attend post-secondary education (37% for a four-year undergraduate program and 20% for two-year/technical programs). 27% plan to begin working immediately, 8% plan to enter apprenticeship programs, 3% plan to join the military, and 4% are unsure.
One part of Clark and Emmett’s role is helping students apply to college and technical school and apply for financial aid. Days are set aside for each senior to seek help with college application and financial aid. Clark works primarily with upperclassmen while Emmett works with underclassmen.
Cooper said, “I feel like we’ve done a good job in the past few years of talking about graduation even at the ninth and tenth grade levels.” Emmett visits the Dade Middle School graduating eighth graders each year to talk about credits required to graduate from DCHS and to help students set the goal of graduating.
While college is a key focus for the counselors, Clark explained that they also want to help students who are pursuing other paths. “We do a lot surrounding college because it’s so confusing, but there are other opportunities. If you want help with something else, we’re happy to help. We don’t think that college is for everybody, and we want students to know that when we talk to them.”
The counselors also deal with truancy issues, mental health issues, dual enrollment, registration, scheduling, and testing for AP (Advanced Placement) and PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test).
Class Night (the night before graduation) is a moment to celebrate these scholarship offers. Additionally, students entering the military are recognized, and the Outstanding Senior Award recipient, Mr. and Miss DCHS, and the Alumni of the Year are announced. Students who document 100 hours of community service are also noted. This year, 30 students completed 100 or more hours.
In addition to academics, community service, club involvement, athletics, and jobs all contribute to students’ college applications and recommendation letters. Clark, Emmett, and Cooper encourage students to keep a running log of all accomplishments and involvement throughout their time in high school. This list can help administrators, teachers, counselors, and employers write recommendation letters.
Cooper said, “You get more out of school the more involved you are. Clubs are one way to find out what students are interested in. We have FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), Skills USA, and HOSA (Future Health Professionals) to name a few.”
While teachers who become familiar with students’ interests and skills are integral, DCHS also uses a career guidance program called YouScience. Emmett said, “YouScience tries to mesh students’ aptitudes with their interests for best-fit careers.”
DCHS also uses work-based learning and field trips to offer students hands-on experience and a chance to feel out potential careers. Cooper said, “Our CTAE teachers have done a good job of having local employers talk to our kids in classes…We do field trips to the lineman school and Georgia Northwestern Technical College. One thing that stood out from my parent council this year is they wanted college field trips for underclassmen instead of waiting until junior year.”
Cooper, Clark, and Emmett believe that soft skills are essential for success. Cooper said, “We try to teach kids that work ethic, being on time, and attendance matters. I’ve told my sons, ‘If you just show up every day and work hard, someone’s going to hire you.’ We also teach them accountability through being at school on time.”
Emmett added, “If they change their minds and have a career change, those non-negotiable soft skills go with you. So many kids now don’t have that base.”
Cooper continued, “The details seem small to the students, because they’re 17 and 18, but we see the big picture. We’re trying to train them to be a little bit better in every area.”
Recognizing that “success” goes beyond scholarship offers, college degrees, or attaining a certain income level, Cooper said, “We’ve succeeded if they have some kind of path to go down. We ask potential teachers: ‘Who is responsible for student learning? The student, the parent, or the teacher?’ Of course that’s a trick question, because it depends on each student’s level of self-motivation. The point of the question is, if parents, students, and teachers all work together, each student will have a whole lot better chance of being successful.”
Emmett added, “To me, we’ve succeeded if they’re prepared for whatever is coming next. Whether it be straight to work or continuing education, they have soft skills that they learned here.”
Clark said, “Success means they can pursue something that makes them happy, and they know they can ask us for help even after they’ve graduated.”
Emmett concluded, “I guess success is not determined on graduation night; it’s determined years down the road. What we’ve done here hopefully pays off in ten or twenty years from now.”