Pictured are (front row) Jose Lopez, Andrew Villatoro, Allyson Thornton, Jeremiah Dilbert, Alex Barradas Perez, (back row) Dreshaun Brown, Ivan Huerta, Sebastian Sanchez, Jessie Rodriguez, Jean Rebecca and Tyrell Grier. photo by Tony Kukulich

This year’s graduating class from Battery Creek High School included the first seniors in Beaufort County to complete the Raise Up program.

Raise Up is a mentoring and scholarship program designed to help high school students with the skills and materials necessary to gain acceptance into a post-secondary school.

The program was founded by Roger and Teresa Jones in 2009. Roger Jones and his daughter Allyson Thornton developed the curriculum, and Thornton serves as the executive director of Raise Up. Before coming to Battery Creek, the program existed exclusively at North Charleston High School.

“It’s a three-year curriculum,” Thornton said. “Students start the fall of their sophomore year and it runs through their graduation from high school. The goal is to get them prepared for whatever the path they choose after high school. If it’s the military, two-year or four-year college, our goal is to help them be successful obtaining and planning the path.”

Open only to male students, the process for acceptance into the program starts with interviews and an application completed in the student’s freshman year. Once a student is accepted into Raise Up, he will receive instruction on a variety of topics necessary for success ranging from social skills to financial literacy. The focus is, however, clearly on academics and preparation for the SAT and ACT tests.

“We meet with our students every week at school for 45 minutes to an hour,” Thornton explained. “We always have a specific topic that we’re going to cover. We also have them give us their grades. Every week they’re accountable to bring us their grades.”

The weekly check-in allows students to identify problems early and take any necessary corrective steps to resolve those issues. Thornton said this has the added benefit of getting students comfortable working with teachers and other authority figures.

From their sophomore year into the spring of their junior year, students spend one Saturday a month preparing specifically for the SAT and ACT tests, though this isn’t a typical test preparation course. These sessions focus on teaching the material covered by the test.

“Our scores have jumped 200 to 400 points since we started doing that,” Thornton said. “We didn’t initially do that. We started with a six-week SAT course that taught how to take the test. We discovered that the students knew how to take the test, but they didn’t know the material. They were so far behind.”

The first Battery Creek class got its start in 2019 with 10 students. Nine of those students were able to complete the program. Thornton added that 100% of the students who complete the program graduate high school.

Support from the Battery Creek administration was important in the success of the program, Thornton said. She commended Chad Cox and Denise Lessard, the former and current principal, respectively, as well as guidance counselor Kirsten Nash for their commitment to the success of Raise Up.

Other contributors to the program include The Pat Conroy Literary Center.

“It thrilled the board of The Pat Conroy Literary Center and Pat Conroy’s family and his widow, Cassandra King Conroy, a former teacher, that we were able to offer Allyson meeting space for the young men of Raise Up at the Center’s new home on Bladen Street when they needed it,” said Marly Rusoff, a board member at the center. “Last fall they met in our Education Room to work on their senior essays. Pat Conroy would have been elated to meet these young men and to read what they wrote in their personal essays.”

As the students prepare for graduation, the Raise Up staff helps them find schools that match their future plans, apply for financial aid and awards scholarships.

“This program has been very beneficial in helping me define my future,” said Raise Up graduate Ivan Huerta, who will attend Clemson University in the fall with plans to become a chiropractor. “Financially for me, Raise Up has had a big impact. It’s helped expand my perspective of what I want to do in my life.”

The 2022 Raise Up graduates from Battery Creek High School included: Dreshaun Brown, Jeremiah Dilbert, Tyrell Grier, Ivan Huerta, Jose Lopez, Alex Barradas Perez, Jessie Rodriguez, Sebastian Sanchez and Andrew Villatoro.