By Johnny Jackson
McDonough resident, Leslie Emanuele, says she wanted to make a difference in the community.
Emanuele, a 2005 graduate of Union Grove High School, is now a senior in journalism and public relations at the University of Georgia, where she is participating in the Public Relations Student Society of America-sponsored Bateman Case Study Competition.
With fellow Bateman team members - Carrie Edwards, of Calhoun; Erin Gentry, of Snellville; Selena Robinson, of Harlem; and Stephanie Perrett, of Lawrenceville - the 22-year-old hopes to help inform students about alternative ways to fund their post-secondary education.
The team, which refers to itself as the Athens College Track, has operated under the "hands-off" guidance of Professor Karen Russell to create a project which will interest and educate high school students about planning and financing their college careers.
On Feb. 23, the team will use its $300 project budget to erect a life-sized board game for students at Clarke Central High School in Athens.
Akin to the popular board game LIFE, the Athens College Track game is geared toward illustrating real-life scenarios high school juniors and seniors must face and overcome in order to take the proper avenues to financing their post-secondary or college education debt-free.
On Friday, three students from the school of 1,425 will be chosen, based on submitted essays, to play the game in front of hundreds of their peers for a chance to win a $250 scholarship.
The scholarship, funded by Horizon Staffing in Jonesboro, is the incentive to play the game. The game itself, however, is a microcosm of the process students must take to get other scholarships and funding for school.
"The winner will be the one who makes it to college [with the least amount of potential debt]," Emanuele says. "You have to go to college to win."
The game requires each of its players to use strategy and make educated financial, academic, and scholastic choices as a means to navigate through the maze of real-life situations, such as if a student should work to save for college, apply for scholarships, or do both.
"It teaches them how to save their money for college and how to prepare, both academically and with student involvement," she says. "We have team members who are taking out student loans and are graduating with thousands of dollars in debt. My dad constantly told me to save for college. We're hoping that, once the Clarke Central students see what they have to do, they will consider the options that are available."
Emanuele worked full-time during the summers as a high school student. She worked two summers at United Van Lines, a Stone Mountain moving company, and was able to earn enough money to help pay for her college expenses the first year.
She also saved money she got as birthday and Christmas gifts and has continued to work during college. She pays for half her education, after the HOPE Scholarship pays tuition. Her parents pay for the other half of her education expenses. She expects to graduate in May -- with no debt.
"Most of the advise I got about financing college was from my dad," she says. "I realize that I'm not the norm, graduating without debt, especially with today's economy. But the less debt you have, the better off you'll be."
Her father's advice comes from experience; Mike Emanuele says he worked his way through college. "When I went to college, I saw a lot of kids whose parents paid for everything," he says. "For them, it was more like a four- or five-year party. They [Emanuele and her sister] seemed to be more motivated to get out in four years, and it gives them a sense of accomplishment and responsibility.
"I'm sure the [Athens College Track] project will be beneficial to let high school students participate in it," he says. "A lot of times, in schools, they stress the importance of college and not necessarily the finances of it."
Students at Clarke Central do not typically have a wealth of options in affording college.
"We have a lot of poverty in our school district and in our county," says Heidi Nibbelink, Clarke Central school counselor. "Sometimes, we advise they scale back their plans, and take two years at a junior college in order to transfer later. And of course, we offer scholarship applications. But, sometimes, you have to make some smart, but tough choices. You have to be strategic."
About 60 percent of students at the school make plans to enroll in four-year colleges. Another 15 percent pursue post-secondary education through two-year colleges, technical schools, or the military.
"With the economy the way it is, it's hitting the middle class the way it might not have a few years ago," Nibbelink says. "We want to help get them into college without amassing a great deal of debt. [Athens College Track is] committed to getting this information out to students. And I think it's a very cool, interactive idea to make it real for kids, instead of putting up a power point presentation and talking at them."
Emanuele encourages students to visit the Athens College Track web site to learn more about scholarships and financial-aid alternatives.
"We may have created a web site called Athens College Track," Emanuele says, "but the scholarships listed on the web site are Georgia scholarships."
On the net:
Athens College Track: