Hey teachers! You know the journey to graduation starts well before students cross the stage. To learn more about what graduation coaches are doing to improve graduation rates, join us in conversation with Shaniqua Caldwell and Amanda Campbell of Peach County High School.

Shaniqua Caldwell and Amanda Campbell in Classroom Conversations

The journey to graduation starts well before students cross the stage. To learn more about what graduation coaches are doing to improve graduation rates, join us in conversation with Shaniqua Caldwell and Amanda Campbell of Peach County High School.


Ashley Mengwasser: Hello there. Welcome in. I'm Ashley Mengwasser, and this is Classroom Conversations presented by the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Public Broadcasting. This award-winning podcast series is intended as a place for you, our teachers, to share and learn. In life, out of all of the walks we take, only a few of them will precede a total transformation. There's a walk down the aisle before entering a state of marital bliss, of course, there's a walk down a hospital hallway to meet a new family member, in infant form, and there's a walk across a stage before entering adulthood. It's called graduation. Is your go-to graduation film, Grease? Dazed and Confused? Booksmart? 10 Things I Hate About You? Each of these joy rides takes on this pivotal departure from our school age years. For students stepping across that threshold next spring. Graduation includes a cap and gown, a ceremony, a class photo, and celebrations with family and friends. But you may not know that it also includes a graduation coach, and that's the topic of today's episode. It's a proactive approach in Georgia schools to help students reach graduation. Graduation coaches are our teachers, school counselors and administrators who monitor student progress, address risk factors, mentor and arm students with necessary life skills. They are investors in our seniors experiencing shared pride, joy, and relief as their students cross the stage to receive a diploma. My guests today are just peachy, having arrived from Peach County High School near Macon, Shaniqua Caldwell is the school counselor and Amanda Campbell teaches social studies and economics to seniors. Both women have served about a quarter century in education and both are tried and true coaches. Shaniqua is Peach County High school's cheerleading coach, and Amanda has experience as dance coach. She's also married to a football coach. You can imagine what great graduation coaches they are. We welcome Shaniqua and Amanda. Hi, women.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Hello.

Amanda Campbell: Hi. Thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: How are you?

Shaniqua Caldwell: Good. Thanks for having us.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thanks for being here. And you were dressed because you have a game tonight?

Shaniqua Caldwell: I do. We will be taking on the Baldwin County Braves this evening.

Ashley Mengwasser: All right. The cheerleaders ready, Shaniqua?

Shaniqua Caldwell: They are.

Ashley Mengwasser: They are?

Shaniqua Caldwell: And I am as well.

Ashley Mengwasser: They're ready to rumble? When's the last time you coached dance, Amanda?

Amanda Campbell: I ended that season this past fall. It was a great season, but it was hard work. So what she's got tonight, she's got it cut out for.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. And you are also a coach's wife?

Amanda Campbell: I am.

Ashley Mengwasser: Are you involved with supporting your husband's games as well?

Amanda Campbell: Every Friday night. We'll go wherever he goes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, that's love right there. Tell me this, you guys, leading up to your own graduation back in the high school times, if you could just look back a couple of years, were you always planning to be a teacher? Shaniqua?

Shaniqua Caldwell: In some ways, yes. I come from a legacy of teachers, starting with my grandmother, my mother. I have an aunt that ended her educational career as an administrator, an older sister and my younger sister, we're all educators.

Ashley Mengwasser: All of you are educators.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Mm-hmm

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh my God.

Shaniqua Caldwell: However, mass communications was my first dream goal.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's amazing. So you would've done this had you not done that.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Absolutely. So I had chills as I walked in.

Ashley Mengwasser: Look, all right today. That's awesome.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Yes. This is my first time in a long time being in a studio.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, how's it feel?

Shaniqua Caldwell: It feels natural.

Ashley Mengwasser: It feels natural.

Shaniqua Caldwell: I could do this.

Ashley Mengwasser: I think you could.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: I think you could too. But personally, I'm really glad that you're helping our kids who are in high school. What about you, Amanda? What's your story? Were you always going to be an educator? She nods.

Amanda Campbell: Definitely, yes. It's just always been a passion. I knew day one, that's what I wanted to be. And after 25 years, I'm still in the classroom, and I love it. We were talking about that on the way up here. It's just something that I enjoy and love doing every day.

Ashley Mengwasser: What do you think you love most about it?

Amanda Campbell: When that door shuts, being in there with those kids just teaching, and really just being around them, I think I could probably teach them anything. So I can't say it's economics or social studies, it's just, again, being around those kids.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's where you belong.

Amanda Campbell: It is.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, that's a beautiful thing. And you have different experiences with your students because you have them in the classroom, Shaniqua, you're working with them as the counselor, but I want to know about yourselves individually before we get too deep into this. If you could separate your personal and professional lives, which I know is very hard for people in education, what would you like to tell us about yourselves personally?

Amanda Campbell: Besides my own two kids, being a coach's wife is predominantly takes up, besides being a regular schoolroom teacher, is the other half of my life. Friday nights after school, whenever, we're right there supporting, whether it's at Peach County or any schools. So, just being a coach's wife and a mom to my own two.

Ashley Mengwasser: Those are lots of more jobs.

Amanda Campbell: Yes, ma'am.

Ashley Mengwasser: But you do have a little bit of a favorite pastime. I know Shaniqua mentioned she would've gone into mass communications in some capacity. And tell us what you might've been. This is surprising, I liked this fact.

Amanda Campbell: I think I might've been a housekeeper. I enjoy cleaning. You can probably come into my classroom at the end of the day and see me with a mop, a broom, a whatever. I just enjoy cleaning. It's just part of therapy, I think.

Ashley Mengwasser: We share that for sure. If I'm feeling stressed, I'll clean something.

Amanda Campbell: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: What is your go-to appliance?

Amanda Campbell: The bathrooms. Yeah, that's my ...

Ashley Mengwasser: Go in there?

Amanda Campbell: I do.

Ashley Mengwasser: Clean that.

Amanda Campbell: I start scrubbing.

Ashley Mengwasser: So, you like to have a sponge or a scrub brush?

Amanda Campbell: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. I'm a vacuum cleaner obsessed person. So that's kind of where my head goes.

Amanda Campbell: My kids think I have a problem.

Ashley Mengwasser: You probably do, but it's a problem that benefits them, so they're lucky. Shaniqua, what about you? You have a couple of hobbies?

Shaniqua Caldwell: Yes, I do. I am a travel advisor and event coordinator. That's been my passion. I recently got an LLC in both of those areas, and so I spend a lot of time traveling with family. I love music, concerts, athletic events, reading. You name it, I like to do it.

Ashley Mengwasser: You're always on the go?

Shaniqua Caldwell: Always on the go. And I have two, a senior in college and a 10th grader, and so he's involved in sports. So I'm a sports mom and my daughter is in band in college. So my weekends I have to split along with the personal things that I do. I'm a sorority girl, so I spend a lot of time with community. And so yeah, pretty busy life.

Ashley Mengwasser: A lot going on. I want to give you some credit for the alliterative beauty of your business name. Go ahead and tell us what it is.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Classy Creations by Caldwell.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love that so much.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: And so, you just do general event planning?

Shaniqua Caldwell: I do general event planning.

Ashley Mengwasser: Are there any events you won't do?

Shaniqua Caldwell: No, there hasn't been anything that I've turned down yet.

Ashley Mengwasser: Excellent. I actually hosted a bar mitzvah last weekend, but that's another story. There's all kinds of activities going on.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Haven't done that yet.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's a place you can grow into, Shaniqua. Give us the history on graduation coaching, if you would, and tell us how that works at your school. You've been doing this for a while, you know the history of it in Georgia?

Shaniqua Caldwell: Yes. I actually was one of the first graduation coaches in the state of Georgia, under Governor Sonny Perdue, establishing the Graduation Coach Program. And from that, I evolved into being an actual school counselor. But the at-risk students were our primary focus when the Graduation Coach Program first began. Since then, it has become all-inclusive, so we involve all students in meeting those goals of post-secondary success.

Ashley Mengwasser: And that was 2007 when the program was formed. I did a little research. I think that there were around 300 and some odd graduation coaches at the time.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Yes, absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: And now both you and your educators, teachers are involved in coaching students. It's just something that's provided as a way to buoy them up on their way to graduation. Tell us what the district motto is, Shaniqua. It's a good one.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow. And we are a district where all students graduate, college and career ready.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's a big goal, one that you have a hand in making happen, Amanda, for students in your classroom and economics. What is your role in the classroom side with these kids?

Amanda Campbell: Just whatever Ms. Caldwell tasks me to do. We first like to identify maybe those at-risk students, and keep a track on them, especially being their senior year. And just keep really an open communications with the counselors and with anyone that's involved directly with them. And like she said, we are all-inclusive now, so really it's not even the at-risk students, it's all of our students. Just if they're getting off track in any way, making sure that the efforts applied, that they have the responsibilities. And again, if they need to come talk with us about anything that's going on, we can immediately send them to the council, or if they feel better talking to us about it. So again, it's just really constant communication, constant, sometimes redirection, and just helping them set the priorities straight for that end goal, which is graduation.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. I foreshadowed this a bit in the introduction, but how does it feel to be a graduation coach? Because you are so invested in these young lives. When you see them walk across the stage and get their diploma, what's that like?

Shaniqua Caldwell: It's like a priceless feeling, and every year it is different. Because some years you have those that are more of those that you had to coerce along the way. And some years it's easy. But I'm the leader, or most recently have been the leader of the graduation ceremony. Ms. Campbell and I have worked together many years with that graduation ceremony, and just to, at a point when you get to the field to look back and see all of the students that you know you had some input into them achieving that particular goal, it gives you a good feeling.

Ashley Mengwasser: And for you, Amanda?

Amanda Campbell: I really think, Ashley, that teachers are planters of mustard seeds. And when you do get out there on that graduation day, you can see those mustard seeds and someone cared about them. Very little do the kids rush home and say, "this is what I learned in economics." But they will come home and tell you, "Hey, that teacher cared about me. That teacher smiled at me. She made sure I was here that day." So when you get out there on that field and you look back, I'm a proud mama and you're a proud mama of almost 200. So that's the good feeling.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wow. That puts it in perspective. Ms. Caldwell, you're in charge of the fun stuff, Amanda told us. You do what? Senior prom?

Shaniqua Caldwell: I do everything.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. Tell me about some of these celebrations along the way for your seniors.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Even today I missed the pep rally for this opportunity, so that was a little hard leaving that event in the hands of somebody else, but ...

Ashley Mengwasser: Passing the baton.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Yeah, everything worked out. I am the senior trip planner, the prom, senior week activities, anything involving the social aspect of the school, I try to give the students the opportunity to participate, because I know this may be the only opportunity that some of them have.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Shaniqua Caldwell: So, I try my best to make things affordable, to make it fun, to get their input on what they would like to do. As a matter of fact, the principal and I had a meeting with four young ladies on Monday, and students now are very vocal on what they like and what they don't like. And so they're going to push me to my limits this year as far as being creative and allowing them to do the things that they wish to do. So I get enjoyment out of that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Absolutely. I think that those are cool activities too, because they're little mile markers on the way to graduation. It's almost like their participation requires them to achieve in the classroom.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. Yes, that's a big part of tracking that. What was your own high school graduation like? If you were to think back on that day right now, can you remember it? Do you remember it fondly, Amanda?

Amanda Campbell: I don't remember it fondly, but I do remember it. I was a little nervous. I went to a smaller high school and you're getting ready to get out there in that real world. All my family was there though, so that helped me. But I don't know if I was really overly joyed about it or not, because I knew I was fixing to go off to school and there wasn't going to be a time like this again. And sometimes you can see that in these seniors and they're deer caught in headlights.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Amanda Campbell: So again, I know I was happy, but I can remember kind of feeling a little on the sad side.

Ashley Mengwasser: Some nerves that day.

Amanda Campbell: Yes, very nervous.

Ashley Mengwasser: What was yours like, Shaniqua?

Shaniqua Caldwell: Having actually graduated from the school where I now work and where my children have attended, it was bittersweet. I do remember it pretty much vividly, but one thing that I remember was receiving an award for 13 years of perfect attendance.

Ashley Mengwasser: Whoa.

Shaniqua Caldwell: And there were only three of us in my class that had that achievement, and we were recognized at the graduation ceremony. And I remember being in the top 25 of my class. My daughter was also in the top 10 of the class, and I'm hoping that my son will follow in our footsteps. But each year that I have a graduation class that comes through, memories of my own graduating from Peach County High School come to mind.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wash over you.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Mm-hmm.

Ashley Mengwasser: I remember my graduation day pretty fondly, I would say. I had a lot of excitement. I was really focused on the celebration factor of it, and I was a very weepy graduate. I gave the valedictory that day and I had a hard time getting through it because I kept looking at my friends and realizing, I think the reality was setting in of this is a departure, this is a threshold into somewhere unknown. And the bonds that I formed with these people and these teachers, will that continue? So, I had that big question mark, and I'm really grateful that some of my best teacher relationships have continued. One of my favorite high school teachers, I have dinner with him several times a year, so it's cool. It's cool to feel that connection to those roots. And it can be a very momentous day to send people out into the future when they're young. But it could also be the beginning of a lasting relationship with that institution if it is a positive experience, which I know you two are making, so thank you for that.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: What song makes you think of high school graduation? Is there something that comes to mind?

Shaniqua Caldwell: For me, the Pomp & Circumstance song is what gives me chills and what really puts the moment in perspective and makes it sacred.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, it's like a ritual once you hear that song play.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Yes. It's final.

Ashley Mengwasser: It is. Amanda?

Amanda Campbell: Well, every year, and I've been doing this probably for the last 10 years, in each one of my senior classes is I play Vitamin C for them. And we all get up there and we sing.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love that song.

Amanda Campbell: And wave our hands in the air. And then I play it for them again at the end of the semester after we form those bonds and we're all like, oh no, it's sad now.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Amanda Campbell: So that's my go-to song for them. And again, at the beginning of the semester, it's oh yeah, this is fun. But at the end of the semester, I think they come to the realization, wow, this is it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. The magnitude of the moment.

Amanda Campbell: Exactly.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh yeah. Vitamin C's graduation song.

Amanda Campbell: It's beautiful.

Ashley Mengwasser: What a hit. Yeah, friends forever.

Amanda Campbell: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: There's one to play today. Why I mentioned above things related to high school graduation, there's the obvious cap and gown, diploma, but you're the coaches here. So would you share with us a few other things that are related to graduation, maybe for Peach County?

Shaniqua Caldwell: We have something that we have incorporated called the Three E's. So employment, entrepreneurship, or enlistment. And it's our goal to make sure that every senior, at least by March, April, they have a goal, and it's in one of those three areas so that they know after they graduate, they have to become productive citizens. They're becoming adults, and we try to equip them with those tools. One way that we do that is through GA Futures, which is an online program. And GA Futures gives them job techniques, resume skills. It allows them to preview colleges, compare colleges, cost, majors that they offer, their aptitudes and interests. So nobody leaves our school without having a plan unless they want to leave that way.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, and we're going to talk about GA Futures more here. Amanda, what do you have to add?

Amanda Campbell: With graduation at Peach County High School, we have one of the prettiest graduations.

Ashley Mengwasser: Really?

Amanda Campbell: We do. We have it on our football field. And the top six students at our school, they pretty much run the graduation. We don't have a guest speaker, everything is left up to those top six students. So it is totally done by the senior class.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's their production.

Amanda Campbell: It is their production.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wow.

Amanda Campbell: And it's amazing. And the kids get behind them, because it's their fellow peers. It's just a graduation, you just go, "this is cool. This is the moment."

Ashley Mengwasser: And then every year feels different for you guys.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Because it bears the trademark of that class.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: The first piece of coaching and counseling on which all success rests, and without it we're in trouble, is the relationship building piece, building relationships with students. How do you build those relationships so they trust you as their graduation coach?

Shaniqua Caldwell: By being open. Your personality precedes anything that you can teach them. So Amanda and I, we both have a pleasant demeanor. We're always happy. I think even when we're not happy, you never know it. So building those relationships and just being genuine with the students, trying to build that before there's a negative connotation to the relationship, you try to get that positive out there and let them know what your purpose is in their educational career.

Ashley Mengwasser: Then they look forward to visiting with you, I'm sure.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Correct.

Ashley Mengwasser: Amanda?

Amanda Campbell: I've always just kind of thought about what kind of teacher do I want my own kids to have when they step foot in that classroom. If these were my own two kids that were coming home, what would I want them to experience? And that's kind of how I model as a teacher. You just have to let the kids know you care about them. As soon as they pick up that you care about them, the rest is easy. So ask them how their day was. A lot of my students have jobs after school, so I always just say, "where are you working? When did you get home last night?" So just to let them know you care will just set the tone with them.

Ashley Mengwasser: You're not only invested in their future, but you're invested in them as people.

Amanda Campbell: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Absolutely, yeah. For students going to college, I know there are a couple of paths here, which you've gone over for us, Shaniqua. For those going to college, how do you guide their understanding of how to apply for college and help their parents with FICA? There's our first acronym of the episode, the Federal Insurance Contributions Act.

Shaniqua Caldwell: We schedule parent-student informational nights throughout the school year. November is when we do a big push for college enrollment. We have local college representatives and financial aid representatives to come and do workshops on FAFSA. We host Apply to College month events. We host Career Fair, College Fair. We take the students to visit these places as well. In the past, I've tried to do the four different types of colleges. Your technical college, your HBCU, your PWI, and then a college based on the interest of the students in our senior class that they would like to visit.

Ashley Mengwasser: What is a PWI?

Shaniqua Caldwell: Predominantly White Institution.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, cool. So they get exposure to a bunch of different options.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: And they can feel, usually I did, feel a connection with a certain type.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Correct.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. Amanda.

Amanda Campbell: I just have a constant communication with the counselors. Because I am a predominantly senior teacher, a lot of them hit my room, hit class time up to talk with them, just gives them that one-on-one. I went through it last year with my oldest son who's a freshman in college this year, and I went to one and there was no questions at the end of the meeting. I knew exactly what to do.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wonderful.

Amanda Campbell: So, our school does a great job in making sure that we know what we're supposed to do.

Ashley Mengwasser: Informative step-by-step guidance.

Amanda Campbell: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: I know it's un-navigated territory until you know what to do. And for students headed to the workforce, Amanda, how do you guide them with writing their resume, completing job applications? Some of yours already have a job, as you mentioned.

Amanda Campbell: They do. These kids nowadays, they know more about job applications than we do. And I do try to pull in, we have a large employer in our area, Bluebird. We go online and we look at their application. Some of our students don't even know their social security number, and I know to us it's just a number, but they've never even put that down. So one of the first things we do is they go home and memorize your social security number. Another thing I really try to encourage them to do is get to know their teachers because they're going to ask for references on those job applications.

Ashley Mengwasser: Good point.

Amanda Campbell: And we don't have all the information. So go to those teachers, get their name, get their address, get their number, put them in your phone, write them down somewhere. Because when you do get to that job application, you're like, "oh no, I don't have this." So those are the two biggies that we work on in my class, just real direct with them.

Shaniqua Caldwell: We also have something called a senior data sheet that we ask each senior to complete so that when they come to us for recommendations, or a school may call to find out information about them, we're able to be knowledgeable and speak highly of those students.

Ashley Mengwasser: You're poised and ready.

Shaniqua Caldwell: And just listening to Amanda just now, this year, remind me, we're going to share those senior data sheets with our senior teachers.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's a good idea, guys. Do they have any student rituals that they do, the seniors? Little quirky things that make you laugh or find humorous?

Shaniqua Caldwell: Now that social media is a big thing; they want to do TikTok.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, wow.

Shaniqua Caldwell: And so, we have had to corral the phone use while they're in the ceremony. That has been hard to do with the creation of social media, but they love to do TikToks. They still want to do the traditional, throw your cap in the air.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Shaniqua Caldwell: So, just being teenagers.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. Which they get to be, I guess. So it feels festive, it feels fun?

Shaniqua Caldwell: Yeah.

Amanda Campbell: It was fun.

Shaniqua Caldwell: And another thing that we do that has become a tradition in our district, we do a graduation walk parade where we visit the elementary and the middle schools in our area, and we walk the halls with them in their cap and gowns. So they not only get to see their former teachers, but the students in our district get to see this is your end goal as a student in Peach County School District.

Ashley Mengwasser: I think I've only had chills three times hosting this series, and I just got chills, that was one of them. Wow, Shaniqua.

Shaniqua Caldwell: It's amazing.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's powerful. But the teacher-student connection that teachers are getting to gaze upon their former students at the place they met them in their education journey, that's just ...

Shaniqua Caldwell: And the students, they make signs and hold them up. And to just see our graduates stop when they see one of their favorite teachers in their doorway. Like she said, yeah, it's chilling.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's powerful. So GA Futures, you gave us a little teaser on this. What strategies do you find in there to help students achieve beyond high school?

Shaniqua Caldwell: We do this through advisement, which we are still currently, it's a work in progress, but through the Georgia Bridge Bill with the DOE where we have to complete certain post-secondary activities and explorations through GA Futures with our students, it's a very structured program. And so the students, of course, they work at their own pace, but for each advisement, they will have certain steps, activities and levels that they will go through, so that ultimately by May, they will have achieved their goal.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right, they're ready for their own Georgia future?

Shaniqua Caldwell: Correct.

Ashley Mengwasser: I got you. What tips do you guys offer students? It's your economics classroom, Amanda, where they're confronting some of this for the first time. What tips do you have for handling their finances, paying bills on time, reading and understanding their credit score?

Amanda Campbell: Yes, that's their life.

Ashley Mengwasser: Their whole life, yeah.

Amanda Campbell: At Peach County, we have an amazing opportunity where our parent coordinator has done this for the last five years for all of my classes. She has asked a local bank, which is Robin's Financial Credit Union. They have come in to every one of my classes for the last five years.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, that's great.

Amanda Campbell: And she goes over credit, credit score, the FICO score. It's amazing. What she can do in an hour and a half affects them their entire lifetime.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wow. That's powerful.

Amanda Campbell: She has done that. And again, it's just been an amazing opportunity we've had. And I think she's opened it up for the past year to the whole entire school, but I make sure I grab her every year. And we do that at the end of the semester at economics, so they kind of know what questions to ask. She's not blindsided going, "they don't know anything." So they already know some stuff to ask her. But that's been a key in our classes. Once she leaves, or he leaves, I always say, "I know you're worried about your GPA in high school, but that's your GPA that's going to follow you for the rest of your life."

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh my gosh, what a great correlation.

Amanda Campbell: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: That is wild, I've never thought of it that way. Do you think your students before they get the exposure from your classroom and these wonderful community partners, do you think they are handling their finances? Or do they even know how?

Amanda Campbell: I don't think so. I think that's why they get a little nervous and a little scared towards the graduation. I mean, some of my seniors have even said, "adulting is going to be hard." And we're like, "yeah." They don't realize that Wi-Fi that comes into their house isn't free.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. Thank you.

Amanda Campbell: Or turning on the water or pushing their trash can. So we look at these in class, we go line by line over the budgets. Some of them have these jobs that they want. And I think by the end of the lesson they realize maybe this isn't going to get me that dream. So we do a lot of eye-opening activities in class. But no, I don't think that they realize how tough it's going to be, I don't.

Ashley Mengwasser: What's your take, Shaniqua?

Shaniqua Caldwell: Our economics teachers do an excellent job. We start with the financial part. Our seniors are tasked with paying senior dues. And so we break those senior dues down into payments throughout the school year. We tell them what they will receive as a part of that, those senior dues, and a lot of them don't believe that payment is really necessary or mandatory.

Ashley Mengwasser: Interesting.

Shaniqua Caldwell: So, we have to teach them, this is what bill collectors do. You don't receive what you have not paid for, or they take back what you have paid for, or not paid for. So there are lots of real life situations. They have to pay for parking at our school. If they lose their Chromebook, they're issued a Chromebook, every student in our school, but of course if they damage or lose it, they have a fine that they have to pay before they can graduate. So there are lots of little financial steps along the way that we're teaching them that involve real life.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's truly immersive experience, but it's setting them up for success. You mentioned, Shaniqua, that it's a team of graduation coaches at Peach County High School. Who makes up the team and how does the team interact?

Shaniqua Caldwell: So, our team is comprised of three counselors, which includes myself, our administrators. We have an administrator that is specifically over curriculum and instruction that works with our counseling department, and all of our teachers that teach senior content classes are a part of our team, as well as what we have called senior advisor teachers. So there is a huge team of us. And at certain times during the year, we do include students as a part of that team.

Ashley Mengwasser: Amanda, how are you interacting with other teachers on the team?

Amanda Campbell: Definitely through emails and just talking to them. I think one of our biggest challenges in the classroom as the teachers of seniors, is making sure that we're all on the same page. If my student's not doing well in my class, I can go find another senior teacher and say, "Hey, what are you doing? Because he's obviously not performing the same in my class as your class. Tell me, give me your help, tell me your tips." So, I think just along those lines of just really supporting each other, trying to get these seniors through is where we put most of our responsibility. But we're always involved in every meeting that the seniors have. We're always there, all the teachers, like Ms. Caldwell was saying, all the senior academic teachers. We know these kids, we're in the classroom with them for eight hours a day, so I can go by and say, "Hey, get it together."

Ashley Mengwasser: Let's end with this. What pearls of wisdom do you have for your seniors about facing life after high school? Life as we know it.

Amanda Campbell: For me, I hope that by the time they leave class, that they have a passion, that they have goals. Some of our goals are a little out of reach, and I don't want to be the doomsayer with them, but I do want them to realize that think about something, set a goal for yourself that is achievable, that you can do, and then follow through with it. We've got such great students at this school, and I just don't think all of them realize that they can do it. So just getting back and encouraging them just to follow through with their dream, with their goal. And that's something we set at the very beginning in economics, it's called our high school plan. And I tell them to close their eyes and envision that they're 40 years old. And is that something that they want to be doing for a long time? Because when you set those goals, we all know that 25 or 30 years is a long time.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. We think about the tenure of things. People these days are having multiple careers in a lifetime, which multiple generations ago was not necessarily the case. What are your pearls of wisdom?

Shaniqua Caldwell: There's a motto that I instill in them, responsibility, and accountability. And without those two things, you won't go far. So that's what I try to instill in them in any situation that I find them being involved in. We take a look at your accountability in the situation and how are you being responsible to be successful.

Ashley Mengwasser: Jobs well done, coaches.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Well, thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: Amanda, Shaniqua, thank you so much for being here today.

Shaniqua Caldwell: It was a pleasure, thank you.

Amanda Campbell: Thank you, it was.

Ashley Mengwasser: We appreciate your wisdom. You guys have got it going on at Peach County High School. Good luck at that game tonight.

Shaniqua Caldwell: Thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thank you for your decades of mentorship and enthusiasm, propelling your students toward graduation. You are your high schooler's launchpad into adulthood, the land of endless opportunity and the land of bills, which they're going to get that entree soon enough. To borrow lyrics from Amanda's go-to graduation track, Vitamin C's, Graduation Friends Forever. I keep thinking of this galvanizing, musing on graduation that it's not goodbye, it's a time to fly. At whichever point along the K through 12 timeline you're meeting students, envision them as high school graduates on their graduation day. Know that they'll be thinking of you as they go flying. Give them something to remember. You're a great teacher. I'm Ashley. We're never graduating, so we can continue to curate the K through 12 content you love to hear. Come back next week for more classroom conversations, the platform for Georgia's teachers. Goodbye for now. Funding For Classroom Conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.