In many ways, 17-year-old Armondre Geter is an example of what the Greene College and Career Academy hopes to do for more students attending Greene County High School.
Armondre is a senior graduating in May. When he entered ninth grade at GCHS in August 2018, he was paired up with George Rountree as his Career Coach in what was the first year of the College and Career Academy.
For both Armondre, who has his whole life in front of him, and George, a retired Caterpillar Tractor executive, it was something new.
“I think it was weird in the beginning, but I think everybody got used to it,” Armondre told the Lake Oconee News during a recent meeting he and George had at the school. “I see him two times a month. He’s into a lot of stuff like applying to a college, any job opportunities and scholarships.”
Every freshman at GCHS is assigned a career coach, a community volunteer who commits to being with their students to listen and advise for the entire four years. They help them create a realistic college and/or career plan with action steps towards graduation and preparation for a successful future.
“He came in like every other freshman,” George told the Lake Oconee News at the meeting, “not knowing what high school was. The first semester, he struggled really hard.”
The soft spoken Armondre agreed.
“The first semester I was really trying to get used to everything,” he said. “Settle in. I had to fix my grades because they were low.”
It took a village and George became part of the village, including his teachers, parents and family, who helped Armondre.
“My mom said to get the work done and get my grades up because if I don’t do it, I’m not going to progress to the next grade,” Armondre said.
And he got a warning from his older sister who attends college in Augusta.
“She says you’ve got a lot more freedom in college. The teachers are not going to tell you to do your work. It’s going to be your responsibility to, like, turn it in on time.”
Armondre came to high school wanting to be a Major League Baseball player but he’s now on a career path to become a mechanical engineer.
“He’s good with his hands,” George said. “I was a mechanical engineer.”
“I had to change it,” Armondre added, “because being an engineer, I see how much fun it can be and I’m really good at it, so I wanted to try it.”
And it’s paid off.
“I feel good about it,” he said. “I went from having low grades to having A’s and B’s now.”
Armondre takes automotive, construction and other classes relating to mechanical engineering. His culinary arts teacher is another of Armondre’s “village” members. She tipped him to a parttime job at Reynolds Lake Oconee.
Relationships are key
The success of the program depends on relationships. And no one knows it better than Marjorie Ellis, Coordinator of the program.
“You need relationships with the volunteers and these specific students,” she says, “realizing that there are cultural differences, there’s financial difference, all kinds of things in there that sometimes can play a role that can take a little bit longer to get to the meat of what’s really going on.”
At times, she serves as a facilitator for both the student and the coach.
“That’s what many of the coaches are finding. Not to go in with ‘here’s what we’ve got to do to get you into college’ but instead ‘who are you and how are you doing’ and ‘what’s going on in classes, is there anything I can do to help you,’” Marjorie explains. “Once they feel that they can trust you, that you’re going to hang around and that you genuinely care, those things will naturally fall out of their conversations.”
She says the school system is thankful for the large number of residents of Greene County who are willing to help the College and Career Academy. There are more than 100 people who have become career coaches over the past four years.
Most of the coaches are white and the majority of students at GCHS are African American. Marjorie, who is African American and graduated from Greene County High School, admits she struggles to diversify. She says COVID has not made it easy to meet with African American churches and organizations.
“I have trouble finding African American coaches that can give that amount of time,” she says. “I’ve said to them, it’s important that kids see people who look like them, that have been successful, and we have principals and assistant principals and businesspeople.”
Her plan is to encourage more successful African Americans to start by helping on a part time basis.
The Greene College and Career Academy will soon be looking for more community volunteers to be Career Coaches for next year’s ninth graders at GCHS.