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Elite Scholars program touts academics, leadership

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Elite Scholars program began in 2005 with 14 male students at Mundy's Mill High School, but it has grown to include about 350 students in all eight Clayton County high schools, and one Junior Scholars club at Pointe South Middle School.

The program is for students who achieve a minimum 3.5 grade point average, good behavior records, and an eagerness to become a leader for their community. The elite and junior scholars can be identified by their uniforms, which include a red jacket, or a black sweater vest for male students, and red sweaters for female students.

The elite and junior scholars will be recognized on Saturday, 5-6:15 p.m., during an Honors Ceremony at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center, 2530 Mt. Zion Parkway, Jonesboro.

"We focus on high-performing students, and through mentoring programs, prepare them to become global leaders," said Dr. Grayson Walles, founder of the Elite Scholars program.

Elite Scholars is one of several nonprofit programs offered by the Choices Matter Development Foundation. It was created by Walles to give African-American students an opportunity to succeed in school, and to prepare them to succeed in life.

Participants take educational field trips to such places as the state capitol and the Georgia Aquarium. The students also attend leadership and etiquette classes at Clayton State University, and get to sit in on classes to get a feel for college studies.

The program has helped send graduating seniors to such schools as Emory, Princeton and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Mundy's Mill High School Elite seniors, Marcel Thomas and Heidi Ashley, will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology next year.

Walles, a teacher at Pointe South Middle School, established the Junior Scholars program this year. The pilot chapter is at Pointe South. Walles said 50 students signed up for the program, and school administrators are excited about its impact on the middle school.

"What I like about the program is it helps you become a hard worker, because you can't slack off," said Adrian Scott, an eighth-grader at Pointe South Middle School.

"I like it when we learn how to do things like extract DNA from a strawberry," said eighth-grader, Dashon Green. "I also like that I'm exceeding standards, not just meeting them."

Principal Dean Lillard said "discipline referrals have been cut in half" since the Junior Scholars program was established. Guidance counselor Tonya Weldon said the program also has encouraged parents to endorse the idea of school uniforms, which will be implemented at Pointe South next year.

"Parents saw how the Junior Scholars acted when they were in their uniforms, and they noticed how their own children acted differently when the Junior Scholars wore their uniforms," Weldon said. "I don't think we had one parent say 'no' when we sent out the surveys about school uniforms."

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On the net:

Elite Scholars: http://www.elite-scholars.com/

Choices Matter Development Foundation: http://www.choicesmatterdf.org/