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Graduate Marietta Student Success Center Director Leigh Colburn helps Donna Osborne, whose daughter is a Marietta High School student, stock the shelves of the Student Success Center's food pantry. 622--GRADUATE MARIETTA 1--STAFF-Mary Kate McGowan

MARIETTA — Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and the Georgia Charter System recognized Marietta City Schools with its Innovator of the Year Award this week for a new program that helps students stay on track to graduate.

The award comes with a $10,000 grant from Comcast.

The district accepted the award Wednesday for the Graduate Marietta Student Success Center’s innovative practices that take care of the whole student. The program, based at Marietta High School, helps students graduate through an array of services from mental health counseling to SAT preparation.

“Marietta City Schools could not be more deserving of this award as they actively remove barriers to success so that every student cannot only thrive, but graduate college and career ready,” Cagle said.

Since opening last October under the direction of former Marietta High School principal Leigh Colburn, the center has brought in more than $884,000 through funding and in-kind donations.

Colburn said the district employs only five of the student success center’s employees. The other 14, including a full-time probation officer and a full-time sexual abuse and domestic violence counselor, are employed through partner agencies.

With partnerships with 37 community organizations and businesses such as AT&T, YWCA, Marietta Kiwanis Club and the Rotary Club of Marietta, the center has successfully wrapped up its first year.

Located around the corner from the high school’s grand staircase, Colburn said the center is a “one stop shop” that offers services ranging from college application help, stress management counseling sessions and professional behavioral health counselors.

“The center is for all students,” she said.

Colburn said there have been more than 5,800 tutoring sessions; 84 students have received some form of mental health counseling and 121 parents enrolled in English classes.

But Colburn and the center are not slowing down.

LOOKING AHEAD

This summer, Colburn and her staff have been gearing up to expand the center to help more students with more services.

Colburn said one of the center’s goals is to decrease the average number of days Marietta High School students spend suspended out of school. When a student receives out-of-school-suspension, she said the center allows students to receive services related to the reason why they were suspended. Colburn said a student could receive counseling and therapy sessions for issues like substance use or conflict resolution while suspended.

She said students can also work on classwork at the center to help prevent them from falling behind.

The center will have its first student board of directors this school year. Colburn said these students will promote the center among students and the community while working with some of the partnering agencies’ directors.

Even though school is out for the summer, the center is not closed. Students and families still come to receive services and guidance.

Graduate Marietta is more than just an academic counseling office. It houses two food pantries and a clothes closet to help address other student and community needs.

Donna Osborne, a mother of a Marietta High School student who lives in Marietta, said the center’s services give families an option for what they need and want, which she appreciates.

Osborne, who has helped stock the food pantry, said the clothes closet allows students to borrow what they need for special occasions or just everyday wear.

During prom season, she said students could borrow suits and dresses to wear for the night.

“Everybody had something to wear,” she said.

Her daughter, Ashanti Sumpter, a rising junior at Marietta High School, said the center provides needed services, and more and more people are coming for assistance. She said she has used the center’s anger management services before.

“Kids spread the word and more kids come,” she said.

A 17-year-old Marietta High School student, who asked that her name not be used, said she has volunteered at the center this summer in between summer school classes in order to complete a community service hour requirement.

The student said the center has helped her through recent struggles. She said she has used the center’s counseling and probation services.

Not only has the student worn clothes from the center’s Clothes Closet, she has also donated clothes to fill the racks.

“I’m putting them in and taking them out,” she said.

Although she is almost finished with her mandated community service hours, she said she will continue to volunteer at the center.

The 17-year-old said she tells other students: “don’t be shy. Just go down there.”

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