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Graduation coaches cheer students on

Fifty years ago last month, the Russians launched Sputnik into space. As the satellite began its orbit, my fifth-grade teacher Mr. Davis told us that space exploration would change education forever.

He said it would increase information and inventions in proportions we could not imagine and that there would be so much knowledge by the time we got to high school they'd have to add a 13th grade for us to learn everything necessary to survive in the world of the future. And being 10-year-olds, we all whined, "That's not fair!"

Well, the information explosion blasted off further than Mr. Davis could have ever imagined, but not so fast that we had to suffer through the 13th grade, as he predicted. Life remained "fair" for us as we processed through high school, then college, then our targeted careers.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Information increases by 30 percent each year. Our vocabulary is five times more extensive than Shakespeare's. One edition of the New York Times contains more news than a 17th-century European would learn in a lifetime.

Even if we added Mr. Davis's 13th grade, it would hardly be enough for kids to learn even a fraction of what there is to know. And besides, that extra year could just get in the way. For today's eighth-graders, half the careers that now exist will be obsolete by the time they graduate. Half the careers that will be open to them haven't even been conceived of yet.

How can these kids with access to more information than the world has ever known not have enough information to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives?

Enter the graduation coach. Last year, graduation coaches were hired at the high-school level. This year, to address Georgia's 72 percent graduation rate, due in part to 16-year-olds dropping out in eighth grade, Gov. Sonny Perdue has required a graduation coach for every middle school in the state.

"To be gainfully employed in this country, students will have to be able to read and write well and have a solid background in math," said Judy Lowder, graduation coach at Trickum Middle School. "Middle school is too early to eliminate options for the future. We try to make connections between middle school academics and post-secondary options."

As for planning a future career, kids today must be aware that they will probably have several different careers during their lifetime and that they must always be prepared to learn something new.

"They need to be lifelong learners," Lowder said.

Mr. Davis had no way of knowing it would take not just 13 years, but a whole lifetime to get all the education we need. But in all fairness, I think he knew a lot, considering where he was in time and space.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.