Like most 18-year-olds in May, Rockelle Carter is looking forward to commencement and collecting her high school diploma.
Unlike most high school students her age, Carter already has an associate degree. She received that on May 4 from Georgia Perimeter College. On May 25, Carter will march at DeKalb Early College Academy for her high school diploma.
“It didn’t really hit me until I walked across the stage at GPC,” said Carter, who enrolls in Valdosta State in the fall as a junior majoring in marketing and information technology. “I’m a college graduate before I’ve even graduated from DECA. I got so excited because it was an awesome feeling.”
Carter wasn’t alone. Of DECA’s class of 2012, 22 of the academy’s 34 graduates marched at GPC’s commencement, marking the academy’s highest percentage of students from one class to complete college degrees.
Established in 2006 as a partnership between DeKalb County School District and Georgia Perimeter, DECA is designed to give promising DeKalb County students early exposure to college. For their first two years of high school, DECA students take college-preparatory classes at the DECA, high school in Stone Mountain. The students then finish grades 11 and 12 on GPC’s Clarkston Campus, receiving high school and college credit for their work through dual enrollment.
DECA students are not required to complete an associate degree, but rather may earn some college credits. Administrators are pleased with the programs unprecedented success.
“With each class, we learn lessons and tweak various aspects of school operations to provide additional support, strategies and motivation to our scholars,” said DECA Principal/Director Sharon D. Ordu. “This class was very diligent about working together in study cohort groups, helping each other to survive and thrive at Georgia Perimeter College. We will most certainly keep up these best practices in hopes of maintaining double digit numbers of scholars who earn the associate degree.”
According to DECA graduate Chasity Hughes, the opportunity to get a jump start on college and the camaraderie DECA students share are keys to the program’s success.
“I made really good, sincere friends at DECA, and once our class moved over to GPC’s Clarkston Campus, our bond became even closer,” said Hughes, 18, who heads to Kennesaw State University in the fall as a junior with a 3.6 GPA. “DECA gave us the opportunity to get two years of college out of the way early, so that’s what we did.”
Hughes’ confidence doesn’t come by chance. DECA offers a college and career readiness plan that includes saturating these young students with activities and information related to the realities of college life and how to prepare for a career.
“Starting in ninth grade, scholars are asked to research and select a college major linked to the career they plan to pursue,” Principal Ordu said. “We have advisory classes each month to implement our plan and lots of peripheral support as well. We have our counselor, graduation coach and student support specialists work with students who demonstrate they are at risk. The social and emotional supports we have in place help with maturity, self-confidence and other skills needed.
“Juniors and seniors come and tutor freshmen and sophomores, and they also speak to classes to talk about their experiences at GPC and how to realistically prepare to be successful on the college campus,” Ordu said. “Teachers are called professors, and students are called scholars. We believe in a strong college-going culture and speaking the language of college.”
The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement has recognized DECA with a gold award in 2009 and platinum awards in 2010 and 2011. DECA graduated 72 students in the 2010 and 2011 classes, with the 2010 class earning 1,822 college credits and the class of 2011 earning 1,209 college credits. Ten DECA students in the 2010 class earned associate degrees from GPC; nine did it in 2011. The 2012 class earned 1,983 college credits from GPC.
“For the past three years we have reached our main goal which is to expose students to college early,” said Kathryn Hall, DECA program coordinator at GPC. “The 2012 class was successful in college because they used the resources they had access to like the Learning and Tutoring center, their GPC and DECA professors, and each other. They committed to their studies and to each other, on their own, they held study groups and encouraged all struggling students to attend. They didn’t’ believe in the isolating effects competition can have. In return they pulled together and I think that is why so many finished with their associates.”
Carter said she will also miss her DECA “family.”
“Graduation will be bittersweet,” Carter said. “I’ve developed a family here and a lot of good friends I feel really close too. I may not see them again, because we’re all moving on to new chapters in our lives.”
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Georgia Perimeter College, the third largest institution of the University System of Georgia, serves approximately 27,000 students through four campuses and several sites in metro Atlanta. For additional information, visit www.gpc.edu.