Connecting Henry honors SWAG graduates

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Not that long ago, the future didn’t look too bright for Jahvon Bryant of Stockbridge.

By his own admission, he had dropped out of high school and wasn’t doing anything with his life.

Students Working to Achieve Greatness (SWAG) program held a ceremony last Thursday to honor graduates of the program that gives high-school-aged residents the chance to earn a GED. Photo by Jason A. Smith

However, that changed when he became a father. Soon afterward, he applied and got accepted into a GED program at Connecting Henry known as Students Working to Achieve Greatness program, or SWAG.

Bryant, 19, was one of 27 people who graduated Thursday from SWAG. As he held his eight-month-old son Kasai in his arms, Bryant proclaimed his gratitude for everyone who helped him to reach his goal.

“To be honest, it was like the best thing,” he said. “At SWAG, it was like they cared about you, and they’ll do anything to make sure you’re on the right path and you’ve got what you need to do the right thing.”

Hundreds of family members and friends gathered at the Henry County Performing Arts Center in McDonough to celebrate the graduates’ accomplishments. SWAG Director Barbara Coleman explained that the program is geared toward people who are motivated to change their lives for the better.

“The program is designed for those that are high-school dropouts,” she said. “They could be pregnant, parenting, runaways, in foster care, they can be homeless, they can have a disability - whether it’s a physical disability or ADD/ADHD - and their parents can be an offender as well. So they have barriers that are already stacked up against them.

The program is designed to help them to fight those barriers and be able to make something out of themselves.”

In the last four years, SWAG has helped more than 100 students earn their GED. That level of success, said Coleman, makes it the No. 1 GED program among the seven counties in the Atlanta Regional Commission area.

During the graduation ceremony, Coleman said SWAG staffers work tirelessly to ensure that students have what they needed to succeed in the program and beyond.

“If they need to go to college or have a desire to continue their education, we will pay for the ACT, and we will pay for the SAT,” she said. “We will facilitate getting them to the college on a college tour. Recently we’ve taken two tours - one to Barnesville at Gordon State College, and we’ve also gone to Southern Crescent in Griffin,” said Coleman. “If our student would like to do it, we are behind them 100 percent.

“We are training our students for the future,” Coleman continued. “They may not have gone the traditional path in high school, but I’m here today to tell you that the GED is just as good as a high-school diploma. I dare say the GED is probably a little bit better than a high-school diploma, because it is work. It is not the traditional GED that it used to be years ago. In 2014, it was changed to be more in line with the high-school graduation test. Our students can actually earn college credit with that GED. Statistics have shown that students that have earned a GED are less likely to go to college and need remediation math or remediation reading, because they’ve already proven that they can do it.”

Connecting Henry launched its GED program in 2009, and branded it SWAG four years ago, said Executive Director Susan Crumbley. She credited her staff for their efforts in helping more than 70 people complete the program over the last two years.

“The reason we’re so successful is, Connecting Henry has an amazing team,” said Crumbley. “We all come to work every day with a passion to help these students better their lives. They receive hope from us, and move on to be successful individuals.”

Several SWAG graduates shared their tales of perseverance through adversity, and expressed their gratitude for those who supported them.

Caleb Satterfield, 19, of McDonough was among the students who spoke at the ceremony. He acknowledged that he completed the program in five months’ time, and said his family, friends, teachers, and SWAG staff were instrumental in helping him throughout his GED journey.

“They actually sat down with you and talked to you and tutored you and taught you, unlike other schools that I’ve been at,” said Satterfield.

His father, Rick Satterfield, beamed with pride following the graduation. “I’m just so very proud of my son for working hard and achieving his goal,” said the father.

Numerous local officials were on hand to congratulate the graduates on obtaining their GEDs. Henry County Commission Chair June Wood credited Connecting Henry for their efforts in the SWAG program.

“One of their missions is to definitely build strong relationships to improve the lives of our Henry County citizens,” said Wood. “What this program is doing for those who have had tough times, they’ve brought resources together so that these individuals will have a much healthier life and lifestyle, not just for them but for their future. And Henry County needs to celebrate this. This is great. Good, educated individuals who are working makes for a great, healthy community. That’s what Henry County is definitely more committed to as well, and we want to thank Connecting Henry for a job well done.”