Charter School’s First Class Bound for Graduation

From the Atlanta Business Chronicle
By Jan Costello

While the PGA Tour stars are competing for top honors at The Tour Championship presented by Coca-Cola, a sweeping victory is unfolding at Drew Charter School, one of the major programs supported by the East Lake Foundation, a tournament beneficiary. The fifth graders who walked through the doors of the new school in 2000 now are seniors, and all of them are on track to graduate.

The high graduation rate contrasts sharply with Georgia’s public school average: Roughly 56 percent graduate on time, according to the Education Research Center, putting Georgia third to last in the nation.

“Our first group of Drew alumni has distinguished itself with high academic achievement,” said Eurith Bowen, High School Connection Program adviser.

The high graduation rate is the result of a comprehensive, well-funded and focused effort beginning with Drew’s High School Connection Program, which targets sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

Beginning in sixth grade, Bowen works with Drew Charter’s middle-school students, helping them learn about their high school options, from magnet to private schools. By eighth grade, she has helped every student and their families pick the best high school to meet the student’s needs.

In high school, the support network continues with the CREW (Creating Responsible, Educated and Working) Teens program, which offers after-school tutorials, standardized test preparation, community service and leadership training, career advisement, and help with navigating the college admissions and financial-aid process.

Chris Bennett, the program’s director, also attends parent-teacher meetings (with the parent’s permission) when the parent can’t get off work or attend.

This support is available to all youth in the East Lake community, not just the charter school alumni.

When Atlanta real estate developer Tom Cousins decided to restore the East Lake Golf Club, he already had been working on rehabilitating the neighborhood. East Lake Golf Club’s founding sponsors have contributed more than $20 million to the revitalization effort, which included the creation of the Drew Charter School.

Other support is provided by foundations, governmental entities and individuals.

The result of this wide net of support is that the students graduate and many go on to college or vocational schools. Nearly $1 million in college scholarships have been established exclusively for Drew alumni, including special endowments at The University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.

Jessica Stillwell, a 17-year-old senior at Southside Comprehensive High School in Atlanta, has not yet decided where she will attend college, although she is attracted to the business school at UGA. She transferred to Drew Charter School in sixth grade, and appreciates the opportunities it gave her.

“If you place people in a good environment, where they see good opportunity for themselves, it gives people more hope,” Stillwell said. “It’s a new atmosphere. When people are placed in this situation, they end up doing better, and I ended up doing better myself.”