The high school graduation rate is arguably one of the saddest realities in Bibb County.
Of all the countys students who showed up for ninth grade in 2008, just 52.3 percent graduated four years later, according to the state Department of Education.
Some of the students graduated later, and others dropped out for one reason or another.
But a new program aimed at the countys younger dropouts could mean they receive a GED certificate in about a month.
The free program, offered by Melbourne, Fla.-based Paxen Learning Corp., opened its Macon office about a month ago.
Organizers hope to start offering the class next week.
We are an accelerated GED program. ... Our goal is to have all students tested in four or five weeks, said Shermesa Saffold, Paxens Bibb County program manager.
The program is offered to dropouts ages 16 to 21 who live in Bibb County. To be accepted, a potential student must first take an assessment and score at a grade level of 7.5 or higher, which is between a seventh- and eighth-grade level.
They have to score within a certain grade level to be accepted because the class is so rigorous, Saffold said.
The Middle Georgia Regional Commission selected Paxen to provide the classes as part of the commissions youth and young adults programs.
Here in Bibb County, we have a very high dropout rate, said Sheknita Davis, program director at the commission. The program that Paxsen provides ... allows them to get a GED in five weeks.
Davis said the program also has a job placement component for students who successfully complete the course.
Classes are 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday with class sizes of about 10 students.
Saffold said the course, which is offered at 182 Riley Ave., in Macon, is designed to give students a better understanding of math, reading, science and social studies.
She said Paxen, which has offices nationwide, including nine in Georgia, has an 80 percent success rate with the students who take the course.
Students in the program also can earn while they learn, Saffold said.
When students pass the GED exam, they get paid $200. Getting accepted into college or technical school gets students $100, and another $100 if they improve their entry exam score by two grade levels after completing the course.
While the course takes only about a month, that time is packed with learning.
It takes dedication and motivation -- how to break down a math problem, how to write a sentence properly, how to read a passage, how to use correct punctuation, Saffold said.
Word about the program is largely being circulated through the countys Parks and Recreation Department.
Most of the about 15 applicants were referred to the program from the Freedom Park and Recreation Center in Macons Bellevue community.
Its badly needed, said Clarence Thomas, a supervisor at Freedom Park. Thats the missing piece of the puzzle. They dont have a high school diploma or GED. If they can secure those, it could help them elevate. Thats where Paxsen comes in.
Because of the dropout rate and graduation rate in Macon, its important, she said. It gives them a second opportunity at life.
To contact writer Harold Goodridge, call 744-4382.