Staff Photo by Tim Barber Sale Creek High seniors leave a meeting with Senior Senate sponsor Marquita Thomas concerning preparation for graduation. "We have 50 seniors this year with two main goals," said Thomas. Walking from left are Kirsten Penny, Claire Davis, Jacob McGhee and Jamie Nichols.
Peer pressure is rampant in the senior class at Sale Creek High School. But rather than squelching it, administrators hope it spreads.
Following the example of last year's seniors, the class of 2011 has started an Every Student Will Graduate campaign that aims to ensure all 50 seniors earn a diploma by May.
"It became a class goal [last year]. Some of the class leaders said, 'You know, we can't lose anybody.' They made a commitment to help each other," said school counselor Marquita Thomas, who also sponsors the school's senior senate.
The concept is simple, Thomas said. Sale Creek's small senior classes -- last year there were 38 graduates -- typically have three or four students who drop out in their final year in high school.
But the class of 2010 decided that wasn't good enough. They had T-shirts made that said, "One school, one class, one dream, one date: Every student will graduate."
All seniors signed the shirt. This year they have encouraged each other and helped students who were struggling academically.
Thomas remembered a scene in the school's library. A male student who had been struggling in math was sitting, working on an assignment, as three girls stood around him. Becoming frustrated, the student said he was going to lunch, and started to get up.
"The two girls on either side of him put their hands on his shoulders and pushed him down and said, 'You're not going anywhere until you're finished.'" Thomas said. "The key is getting kids to help each other because then they're accountable to each other."
Word about the program spread after it was discussed last summer at a National Student Council conference. Thomas was interviewed by a Colorado newspaper reporter who was writing a story about a local school that started a similar plan after hearing about Sale Creek's class of 2010.
Keegan Penny, 19, graduated last year from Sale Creek and said she remembers helping at least one of her classmates come up with topics for his senior project paper -- an assignment students must complete to graduate.
"We were just there for each other. Out of [about] 40 of us, 22 had gone to school together since kindergarten. We knew where they struggled and we were there for them when we could [be]," she said.
This year's seniors say that even though they've got 12 more students, they'll make sure everyone graduates.
"We're kind of picking up where they left off; we are wanting to have every senior graduate and to leave that lasting legacy of a positive attitude," said Jamie Nichols, senior class secretary.
Courtney Storey, senior class vice president, said the trick is to get as many students as possible involved in class activities.
"Especially at Sale Creek, we're really pushed to not be all about ourselves, but about each other, and care about how we're doing in school. We're more like a family here and we don't want to see anyone from our family fail," she said.
Principal Robin Copp knows that part of the program's success is because Sale Creek is small. She was unsure how it could be replicated in a larger school, but said the principle is the same.
"The basis of it is class unity, and all administrators can work toward that," she said.
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...