WINDER - Rep. Brooks Coleman, chair of the House's Education Committee, spent Friday morning talking to students at the Barrow County Performance Learning Center about how their traditional schools had failed them.
One student said he had been disinterested since he began getting in trouble in third grade. Another told Coleman she was afraid to ask a question in class and admit to her peers that she didn't know something. And yet another said she started to lose interest in school when her classmates were mean in middle school.
But those students, and 53 others, are excelling in the Performance Learning Center, a new program that seeks to help students who are at risk of dropping out of high school by letting them learn at their own pace.
Coleman watched students work Friday, and asked questions of a seven-person panel, as he tried to determine how the education system could help save students who did not want to be in school.
"I'm looking hard for ways, for alternative ways of educating all children," he said. "If we don't educate them, we're going to pay for it."
Crissy Cochran, a 16-year-old junior, said she had a bad attitude when she attended Winder-Barrow High School. She didn't plan on graduating, but said she will be dual-enrolled with Lanier Technical College in the spring.
"It's a lot better for me," she said. "It's self-paced. I don't have to wait for the whole class to catch up."
Rob Johnson, principal of Winder-Barrow High School, said the Performance Learning Center helps reach students who oftentimes aren't learning disabled, but come to school with a lot of baggage. They are not able to get the attention that they need in traditional schools with 30-person classrooms, he said, but thrive once they get the attention that they need.
The Performance Learning Center has the support of Communities in Schools. Coleman peppered the students with questions, from how behavior was in class to whether they felt responsible for their own actions and how important smaller class size was to them.
Sens. Ralph Hudgens, R-Comer, and Dan Moody, R-Alpharetta, were also supposed to attend the tour. Both had last-minute scheduling conflicts, Performance Learning Center Principal Molly Stiltner said.
Stiltner said the school should host 75 students next year, and has already grown from 45 when it opened in August. She said she was pleased with Coleman's reaction to the program.
"He seemed very encouraged and excited by it," she said.