Conway schools start program to increase high school graduation - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Conway schools start program to increase high school graduation rate

About 20 to 25 male students who are rising freshman at Conway High School will be asked by the educators to be part of the program. (Source: WMBF News) About 20 to 25 male students who are rising freshman at Conway High School will be asked by the educators to be part of the program. (Source: WMBF News)

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - In an effort to combat a recurring problem of low graduation rates and high incarceration rates with kids in Conway's education district, community leaders in Conway gathered for a series of leadership classes at The Riley Institute at Furman University earlier this year.

The group included three Conway police officers and the principals of Whittemore Park Middle School, Conway Middle School and Conway High School.  They were able to go through a grant from Conway City Council.  The classes brought together various municipalities across the state to solve a community issue.  Conway chose to solve low graduation rates.

What they came up with is called Project RISE.  It stands for respect, integrity, service and excellence. That's what educators and the police want to teach the at-risk, male eighth graders who will qualify for the program.

About 20 to 25 male students who are rising freshman at Conway High School will be asked by the educators to be part of the program.  To choose who's at risk, the principals examine discipline, academic and attendance records.  However, the children must have their parent's permission to begin the program.  Parent's resource classes are part of Project RISE.

Conway Middle School principal Lee James says programs like RISE can be a blessing for some parents.

"You would be surprised a lot of times these parents already know, they've had this student this long...for now, 13 years....the school was called a couple of times, the school's called many times they realize their child is having difficulties in school, they understand and they're often looking for help," James said.

The six people in charge of the program said it'll work by improving these kids' team-building and leadership skills.  Many kids who get into some trouble might be lacking skills like those. Project RISE includes a mentorship program, and that's where the police department comes in.

Conway schools already have one police officer who is a well-known, friendly face in the hallways.  His name is Officer Guiles and he's one of the main people bringing Project RISE to Conway.

Officer Guiles said the program will not only help the kids succeed by providing them with community mentors, whether it's a police officer, teacher or pastor, but also teach them about short and long term goal-setting and help with cultural and racial understanding.

The hands-on activities and classes to do so will happen during school time. 

Principal Lee James said the police have an especially important roll to fill right now with these kids. Some kids who will be chosen for Program RISE have already had run-ins with the law.

"One of the goals of the program is to change the perception of police for these youth to let them have more positive experiences with police officers rather than them simply seeing things on the news or media that aren't so positive," James said.

Program leaders said the program was just finalized in June. There will be tweaking along the way this year and improvements to make for next year, they said.  The hope is the first class of kids will be able to serve as mentors themselves as they graduate to upperclassmen.

Besides mentoring, the program includes college visits, industry tours, career counseling and community service work.  Project RISE leaders also said they will partner with the Horry County Sheriff's Office new SOAR program.

RISE kicks off at the beginning of the 2017 school year for Conway High School freshman.  Principal James said they do have boys in mind for the program, but they have not been notified as of yet.

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