November 30, 2020

High School mentoring program aims to encourage at risk students

(Franklin, GA) — One of the primary goals on Heard County High School principal Rodney Kay’s agenda when he took the reigns at the school in 2013 was to improve the school’s graduation rate, so he started a new mentoring program right away.

The program is designed to help at risk students bridge the gap to a successful graduation by helping them learn about possible career paths in their fields of interest, as well as providing a tangible link to the community.

Kay felt the best way to successfully implement the brand new program was by reaching his younger freshman students that might be susceptible to failing or dropping out of school.

During the summer prior to his first year as principal, he asked Heard County Middle School faculty members and administrators for a list of students from the incoming freshman class and the program was born with that group of 30 kids.

Nancy Heard (L) and Summer Grace Singleton (R)

Mentor Mrs. Nancy Heard (L) and Summer Grace Singleton (R)

Most of those kids are now in the eleventh grade at HHS and the program has worked so well, the school now has mentoring groups from grades 9-11.

Mentors come from all walks of life and include teachers, other school leaders, as well members of the local community.

These mentors keep tabs on their students on a regular basis, monitoring their grades, behavior, and just generally being there when problems of any kind might arise for the student.

Kay says the community mentors are especially helpful with the students.

“When I first started as principal, we knew we had an 85-87% graduation rate and the question we asked was ‘What is the problem with the other 15 percent? What are we missing? What are we not doing?’ said Kay.

“One of the primary things we noticed was these kids were dropping out in the ninth and tenth grades. Attendance was a problem, behavior was a problem, and of course the grades were an issue. We just said what can we do to make our graduation rate 95 percent?”

One of the first obstacles encountered for the program was funding. “We were just trying to get the folks in here to take the mentality that you are going to grab one or two of these kids and kick them in the tail all the way to the finish line or love them all the way to the finish line or whatever it takes,” says Kay.

“Then we realized doing this was going to be expensive so we started the ‘Partner in Education’ module as a vehicle to raise donations for the program.”

To date, the Partner in Education sponsors have raised over $8,000.00 to help cover some of the costs associated with mentoring. The donated money is used in various ways to help educate and reward the students who remain in the program.

One of the more successful students since the group’s inception is junior Summer Singleton. “Our mentors encourage us all to make it through high school with good grades, but it is really much more than that. They help us to WANT to come to school,” says Summer.

Summer’s current mentor is retired HHS music director Mrs. Nancy Heard, but she credits a few different people with her great progress over the past three years.

“My mentor now is Mrs. Nancy Heard. She along with Mr. Kay and Mrs. Lori Cabe have been so encouraging for me to want to be successful and have a career doing something I love. Being able to have a mentor is so helpful for me. Having somewhere there to help you and push you until you finally succeed.”

Gabby Owensby (L) and her mentor HHS language arts teacher Mrs. Amanda Horn (R)

Gabby Owensby (L) and mentor HHS language arts teacher Mrs. Amanda Horn (R)

Summer’s dream is to attend the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school when she graduates from HHS to pursue a field in the culinary arts.

“I can’t thank Mr. Kay and Chef Tillman enough for helping me to proceed in my culinary career and supporting me. I cannot wait for May of 2017, to walk across that stage and shake Mr. Kay’s hand and thank him for getting this program together and for pushing me forward when I didn’t believe in myself.”

One example of how the donated money through Partners in Education helps the students is by paying for different events and instructional programs that can help with student’s career paths.

Chef Tillman is planning to take Summer to an out of town culinary contest that would not be feasible without the program.

Some of the community mentors taking part in the program in addition to Mrs. Heard include Chief Kevin Hannah, Lt. Tino Brooks, Officer Nikki Chapman from the Franklin Police Department as well as Ashley Awbrey and Nichol Langley from Harper Realty, one of the Partner in Education sponsors.

“Teachers don’t have time to spend mentoring their students like they wish they could. The ever-increasing demands on teachers stretches them too thin to be able to meet with students one on one. The mentoring program can meet this demand,” says Mrs. Heard. “Sometimes students need an adult, other than a parent, to help them out or give a different perspective — or just to listen to concerns. “

Heard says that being able to help Summer and follow her progress at school has been a rewarding experience.

“I’ve really enjoyed being able to help Summer. Whether it’s to listen to a worry of hers, to celebrate an accomplishment, to give her words of advice, or even just to laugh together, it has been a pleasure,” says the former  HHS teacher.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what great things she accomplishes as she works toward graduation and beyond. As a retired teacher who recognizes the need for this, I admire Mr. Kay for getting this program started and appreciate all the people who have donated their time or funds to support it. Volunteering to be a mentor is an opportunity to help shape a life.”

Mentor Mrs. Lori Cabe (L) and Frankie Bales (R)

Mentor Mrs. Lori Cabe (L) and Frankie Bales (R)

Many of the mentors oversee the activities of several students including Heard High receptionist and three-time Support Person of the Year winner Mrs. Lori Cabe. Cabe has successfully mentored numerous students.

“The mentoring program gives students the support and encouragement they need to succeed — in school, extracurricular activities and in life — in a world where everyone is concerned with themselves these kids know they have someone on their side that cares for them.”

Mrs. Cabe draws from her own experiences as a teenager in helping her kids.

“I use my own childhood to connect with these kids,” says Mrs. Cabe. “I can relate so well. I failed classes, had huge attendance problems and I hated high school so much. My high school counselor gave me the attention and encouragement I needed to graduate or I wouldn’t have. Now I understand personally how just one kind word can change someone’s life.”


  1. How I wish this was available when I attended Heard High.

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