Dr. Dale Graham who returned to the Thomas County School System in 2018 as the district’s math coordinator was named District-wide Director for the MERIT Program last fall and is rolling out several initiatives for the new school year.
MERIT, short for Maximizing Education to Realize Intellectual Transformation, provides a rigorous curriculum and enrichment opportunities for gifted and academically high-achieving students in grades 5-12. The program spans both Thomas County Middle School and Thomas County Central High School.
Under the new structure, the program has a middle grades coordinator, Dana Studdard, and a high school coordinator, Erin White.
At the middle school, MERIT students are served on dedicated teams where they take honors and advanced courses in the core academic disciplines and Spanish. Through the middle school MERIT program, students have the opportunity to participate in numerous academically-based activities and to earn high school credits in literature, physical science, algebra, Spanish, and computer science. Students also have access to all of the fine arts, CTAE, and physical education electives available to all students at the middle school.
New in the middle school MERIT program this year is a “Makers Space” laboratory class. Tammy Sharpe, who has been a leader in the Project Lead the Way coding curriculum, will provide expanded opportunities for MERIT students to be involved in computer coding while developing individual projects that require programming in the new “Makers Space” laboratory designed especially for the program. The activities have been available to MERIT students during their science classes, but the new program has been modified to include more hands-on experiences. The class will be offered during the students’ exploratory period rotations.
At the high school level, MERIT will be taking on a new identity under the direction of Erin White. The recommended course sequence has been adjusted for entering ninth graders to make room for more Advanced Placement classes, and there will be more opportunities for MERIT students to maintain the cohort that they formed at the middle school.
“The team-based cohorts at the middle school have proven very popular,” said Dr. Graham. “We are planning a variety of opportunities for the MERIT students to continue participating in academic activities at the high school as a cohort while still being fully engaged in the wide range of activities available at the high school.”
Plans are also underway to enhance enrichment programs that are already in place at the high school including National History Day, Mock Trial, and Model United Nations.
The MERIT Program will also have a home base at the high school where they can develop study groups for high school courses, receive support for research and writing, and explore colleges and careers. The MERIT office will have resources for research and study. Nancy Rogers will be available in the office from 3:00 to 4:00 on selected days to assist students in developing their research and writing skills.
According to Dr. Graham, “The space is designed to give the MERIT program an identity at the high school and provide a space to support the students as the Advanced Placement courses are expanded.”
Rogers, a highly successful MERIT English teacher at Thomas County Middle School, will be heading up an after school writing lab program for both middle and high school students. She will work after school at the middle school two afternoons each week and at the high school two afternoons each week.