GRAD Partnership Black Belt Cohort Celebrates a Successful Year One

Thank you to Annah Rogers for sharing this recap of the event

May 26, 2023 |
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The first year of the GRAD Partnership Rural Cohorts in Northern California and the Black Belt is coming to a close, and each location had a year-end celebration of the work. Thank you to our Black Belt GRAD Partnership Hub Coordinator, Annah Rogers, for sharing this wonderful recap of the event on campus at The University of West Alabama. You can learn more about the Black Belt GRAD Partnership, and RSC's rural pilot project here.


On May 11th, teams from seven of the ten schools in the Black Belt GRAD Partnership cohort joined representatives from the University of West Alabama (UWA) and Talent Development Secondary (TDS) on campus at UWA to celebrate the end of year-one of the GRAD Partnership grant. This was the first time that the cohort schools have been able to meet in person, and the response could not have been more positive.

The event kicked off with an introduction from the regional GRAD Partnership Coordinator, Dr. Annah Rogers. Next, each of the schools in attendance gave short, 15-20 minute presentations about their schools and the actions that they have taken to support student success over the past year. Each school reflected honestly on both the successes and challenges that they have faced this past year. As schools presented, attendees throughout the room could be found taking detailed notes and devoting their full attention to listening and learning. After the presentations concluded, participants bonded during a catered team lunch. Finally, the event wrapped up with a Q&A session followed by a presentation about data collection and usage from Dr. Rogers and Raphael Curtis from TDS.

Pickens County High School presents at the event
Pickens County High School presents at the event

During the event, one of the biggest “wins” observed by almost every school was strengthened relationships with students. At Pickens County, Principal Lee Richardson noted that his school’s student success team has really sought to understand the challenges that students are facing, and in doing so they have been able to get students the help they need, whether that be medical treatment, a mental health referral, or simply mentorship. At Demopolis High School, the mentorship program implemented by Principal Terina Gantt as part of the GRAD Partnership has resulted in lasting bonds between students and their mentors, who could be teachers, administrators, coaches, or any other school support staff member. The Hale County and Greensboro High School students who attend the Hale County College and Career Academy reported strong relationships with their teacher, Mrs. Bates and administrator Dr. Marlon Murray, due to their participation in JAG (Jobs for Alabama’s Graduates).

Though these schools have only been implementing student success systems in their current form for the past year, most also reported that they have seen positive improvements on the various metrics they have been tracking (attendance, behavior, course performance, and/or connectedness). At Southeast Lauderdale High School, for example, the school has been able to shift from having only 60% of students connected to something other than academics at their school, to having 88% of students connected. Sumter Central High School, who focused on course performance, was excited to share that they have had great success with getting students to participate in after-school tutoring and have seen a 20% increase in their number of credentialed seniors since last year. At Francis Marion School, students have improved in the areas of academics and behavior.

“I am incredibly impressed with how each of the schools’ unique projects have grown throughout this year and cannot wait to see what this exceptional group will accomplish next year. The members of this cohort are passionate about this work and are champions for student success. The relationships they are building with each other and their students are exactly what the GRAD Partnership is about.”

These successes did not always come easy or without challenges. One of the primary challenges cited by schools was time. Tracy Bryan, from the University Charter School, noted that their innovative approach to student success which utilizes a school based enterprise, “BrewCS”, required a bit more time to organize and implement than originally expected. Still, the positive outcomes for students are seen as well worth the additional work.

One barrier that schools are still facing is transportation. At Southeast Lauderdale High School, this barrier has prevented some students from participating in after school activities; however, innovative leader, Robbi Cooper has worked to create in-school opportunities for student connections. Similarly, Sumter Central High School has seen transportation as a barrier to their after school program; however, Dr. Kimberly Wilson noted that they have seen students and parents work around this by carpooling when possible.

Presentation from Southeast Lauderdale
Presentation from Southeast Lauderdale

Thank you again to our partners at the University of West Alabama for their commitment to rural education, and to the 10 schools in the Black Belt Cohort! Learn more about the GRAD Partnership project.

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