The Legacy Class
Coming from a family in which no one has graduated from high school, Derrick Standifer could have easily become another victim of poverty.
But instead, the 18 year old is graduating May 28 with his high school diploma from Carver High School and 39 college credits from Georgia State University.
Standifer and 78 other students were able to rise above their challenging environments and achieve academic success thanks to the Early College Initiative at the New Schools of Carver, a partnership between Georgia State and Atlanta Public Schools.
They have been dubbed the “Legacy Class” because they are the first Early College seniors in the state of Georgia to graduate.
Even more impressive, all of the seniors have been accepted into a two-year or four-year institution, and nearly half are receiving scholarships to help with tuition. Like Standifer, the majority of the Early College graduates will become the first members of their families to head to college.
“Early College turned me into a hard working student,” said Standifer, who is the class salutatorian. “It was really challenging – you either take on GSU or you quit. There was a lot of competition, but we made it. And I feel like I can do anything now.”
Carver Early College High School was the first of its kind when it opened in 2005 and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was established to help improve graduation rates at Carver High School, which at 36 percent in 2004 were among the lowest in the nation. In the program, students take courses at Carver High School and on the Georgia State campus.
The Pell Institute reports that only 24 percent of low income, first-generation high school graduates enroll in college. The Early College model is designed to increase the number of underrepresented students in post-secondary education by giving them a jump start on their college education. The Early College High School graduating class is 99 percent minority and 72 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch.
Even while taking college-level courses at GSU, Early College students outperformed their peers in traditional Atlanta high schools. For example, in 2008, the Early College junior class ranked first in the Atlanta Public School System on all sections of the state-mandated High School Graduation Test.
“We are excited about the success of these students,” said Gwendolyn Benson, associate dean of Georgia State’s College of Education and GSU liaison for the Early College program.
Early College at Carver primarily serves students living in the area surrounding the school in southeast Atlanta. Students must apply to attend the program; however, students from the immediate neighborhood are given first choice of attendance with any extra seats open to the district. A student’s Criterion Reference Competency Test scores, grade-point averages, teacher recommendations and panel interview are factors in admittance.
Students in the Early College program take courses found on most college freshmen schedules such as English 1102, college algebra and economics. But they learn more than what they read in books or hear in lectures.
They are taught study and time management skills that help them juggle classes, school activities, part-time jobs and other responsibilities. Standifer, for example, took classes at Georgia State and Carver while playing football, running track and working part-time at a movie theater. He also helped College of Education Dean Randy Kamphaus with his research project, while earning mostly A’s and B’s in classes.
The Early College program also broaden students’ experiences with international trips to places like Costa Rica and Japan.
“Personally, it made me see there’s a bigger world and I’m just a small part of it, but I can make a difference,” Standifer said of his trip to Panama and Costa Rica.
Many students attribute their success to the unending support they received from educators at Carver High School and Georgia State during the program. In fact, Standifer was inspired to become a teacher himself and will pursue an education degree at Florida A&M University, bringing his GSU credits along with him.
“Over the past four years, we have demonstrated what is possible when students are provided committed teachers, additional student support through college mentors and study coaches and, of course, the power of place experienced by high school students on a university campus,” Benson said.
The commencement ceremony for the Early College High School students and all schools at Carver will be held at 8 p.m. on May 28 at the Atlanta Civic Center. The commencement address will be delivered by Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot. The University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll B. Davis will join Early College students on stage to congratulate them.
For more information, visit http://srt5.atlantapublicschools.us/carverec/