GRAINGER COUNTY - A state education report released in January praises Grainger High School for improving enrollment rates in postsecondary institutions.
The Tennessee Department of Education released a report in January titled, "Seamless Pathways: Bridging Tennessee's Gap Between High School and Postsecondary."
The report lists challenges schools across the state may face in assisting students in their path to pursuing education beyond a high school degree. It also gives credit to schools that are working to improve these rates.
Grainger High School is listed in the report as a school that is succeeding in this area. According to the report, around half of Grainger High School graduates enrolled directly into postsecondary institutions in 2013. That number increased by 25 percent in two years to 75 percent.
The report said the growth is "especially impressive considering that 60 percent of the school's students are economically disadvantaged and just 11 percent of the county's over 25 population has a bachelor's degree or higher."
Vicki Farrar, the Gear Up coordinator for Grainger County Schools, said she, along with counselors, teachers and administrators, have worked over the last two years to make enrollment in a postsecondary institution a priority among students.
She said Gear Up is a grant-funded program that is only in 15 counties in the state. She credits this program, along with Tennessee Promise, for the shift in students' attitudes.
"What we saw two years ago was, 'I don't know if I want to go,'" she said. "Last year, it was 'I think I know where I'm going.' This year, it's 'I know where I'm going, but I'm going to apply to multiple places.'"
Farrar said it takes college and job site visits to motivate students, in addition to helping every student through each part of the application process.
"We can do a lot in bulk with students, and then like the outliers, we'll just track them down," Farrar said. "It's kind of a form of harassment. We just keep going and going and going till we get them."
Tennessee Promise has given students a way to make college affordable, she said, but it's the support and encouragement they receive from Gear Up that helps students follow through with the steps to pursue higher education.
"We don't want to leave any student behind so it's just a matter of making sure that every last student has what they need to succeed," she said.