When local students come back to campus later this week, they’ll have a new set of support if they find themselves in the midst of hard times in their lives.

A program announced last year and launching with the start of the school year on Friday called Graduate Polk got a chance to show off what is in store for high school students now and in the years to come.

Dr. Katie Thomas, the assistant superintendent of innovation and learning and CEO of the Polk County College and Career Academy, said the program was kicking off with some participants already enrolled.

“We also have an application process, and those students who feel they need additional help can visit the counselor’s office to sign up once the school year starts,” Thomas said.

Graduate Polk, modeled off Graduate Marietta, a program instituted in the Cobb County school system, provides resources like a food pantry and clothes closet to those students who have issues at home that are preventing them from doing better in school and thus completing their K-12 education. Administrators went for a visit to Marietta to see how their program worked, and whether it would be possible locally.

“We were astounded by their program, and wanted to bring it back to Polk County to meet the needs of our faculty and staff,” Thomas said.

She said Polk School District is uniquely placed to do a lot to impact the community with the help of educators and school administrators that can help students to reach “graduation and beyond.”

Students can get several services from the program, such as alternate scheduling for those who need it to be able to graduate, a clothes closet, a food pantry, and more.

Plus multiple partners in the program like Polk Medical Center, who with their sponsorship of the Rockmart Farmers Market will provide high school students with fresh produce, and backpacks through Action Ministries with food students can eat over the weekend, and more.

“We’re really getting down to the goal of providing for those basic needs to help our students succeed,” she said. “From therapists from Willowbrooke (at Tanner) for mental health, which is the number one issue in education today, to faculty members providing support groups.”

She also said a big area of the program was to bring in the area employers and talk about workforce development, and the jobs available in Polk County. And for those students who want to go further with their education, there’s help for that too.

“Kennesaw State University through the Upward Bound program will two days a week provide assistance in filling out college applications and financial aid assistance,” Thomas said.

She said plans in the future are to expand the program out after the initial year to the middle schools. Already, Cedartown Middle Schools has taken up a program to help started in Spring 2018 called “The Dawg House.”

It as well has food, clothing and other assistance students need in order to feel their best when heading into the classroom. Thomas wants to expand out that program with Graduate Polk, and add resources to Rockmart Middle School as well.

Educators had a chance to celebrate the program’s launch on Monday with the first day back in class for teachers at Cedartown High School’s Polk County College and Career Academy campus.

Thomas talked about the goals of the program, and Matt Jones, the Chief of Staff for the Georgia Department of Education, also addressed teachers about what it meant for Graduate Polk to help local teens get the most out of their time in the classroom.

Anyone interested in helping Graduate Polk by providing donations of clothing, food, funding and more can contact the Polk School District’s Central Office and get in touch with Thomas by phone at 770-748-3821, or by e-mail at kthomas@polk.12.ga.us.

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