By Curt Yeomans
Tashona Sanders chalks up the changes she has undergone over the course of her high school career to one thing: maturity.
Sanders has gone from having a 1.0 grade-point average four years ago, to being a member of Mundy's Mill High School's A-B Honor Roll for the fall 2008 semester. She has also become more involved in her school, and now helps members of the school's janitorial staff clean up the cafeteria after lunch - even though she is done with classes for the day.
"When I was in the ninth-grade, I just didn't care," Sanders said. "As I progressed through the 10th, 11, and into the 12th-grades, I realized it was time to stop playing. As the ages came, that's when I grew up."
Sanders, 18, a senior at Mundy's Mill High School, is the only student from Clayton County vying for most-improved pupil honors this week at the state Career and Technical Instruction program conference on Jekyll Island, Mundy's Mill CTI Coordinator Vanessa Canty said. Judges in the category will review portfolios, and interview candidates for the most-improved male and female students awards on Friday.
"They have to show progression throughout their high school careers in the areas of attendance, academics, school service and community service," Canty said. In addition to Sanders, though, there are approximately 13 other Clayton County students competing at the conference in various other categories, Canty added.
Canty said she submitted Sanders' name for the category largely because of the pupil's improvements in the areas of academics and giving back to others.
Sanders has helped box food at the Atlanta Food Bank five times since last September with other CTI students, Canty said. The youth has also participated in school-sponsored clean-up efforts on Flint River Road, and worked with American Red Cross officials during two blood drives hosted this school year by the school's Health Occupations Students of America chapter.
She is also a participant in the school's "Transitions" program, which helps special-needs students be successful in school. Sanders is in the program because she has a learning disability, Canty said.
"I think she's made a drastic change over the last four years," Canty said. "I looked at her whole career at Mundy's Mill when I considered submitting her name for this award, and I think her academic improvement and increased community service shows some of her maturity."
Sanders said competing for the award is satisfying for her because she has often felt looked down upon by some of her peers because of her learning disability.
"People kept telling me I wasn't going to amount to anything," Sanders said. "I guess it was because I was in the Transitions program, but we're the same as everyone else."
Sanders said she enjoys taking her science classes, particularly biology. But while biology is her favorite class in high school, it is only because of a section in the class on chemical reactions in which she learned how chemicals interact with each other. The other part of the class - the dissections - was something she said she did not like.
"I like the chemical reactions, but I didn't want to touch the animals," Sanders said. "It was nasty. Plus, I can't hurt any animals. That just isn't right."
She said she felt the urge to help others last fall when she began volunteering at the Atlanta Food Bank. She said the food she helped box up for the food bank went not only to homeless people and individuals on welfare, but also organizations which distribute food to the poor.
"I just enjoy helping other people," Sanders said. "It makes their life easier ... They're getting meals every day. I just feel overwhelmed at the end of a shift when they [Atlanta Food Bank officials] tell us we boxed about 3,000 to 5,000 meals. We just sit there and say 'Wow, we did that!'"
Sanders said if she was asked to give advice to her classmates on how they can better live their lives, she would simply tell them to do as much as they can to be involved in their school, and in their community.
"If they want their parents to be proud of them, they should do things in school," Sanders said. "Even if you're out of school, you should do stuff with your life."