SANTEE — A few years ago, Orangeburg Consolidated School District 3’s Holly Hill-Roberts High School and Elloree High School merged to become Lake Marion High School.
And that’s where the Dixons began their journey to give back.
“Twenty years ago, my husband and I graduated from Holly Hill-Roberts High School,” said Dr. Zelphine Smith-Dixon, a member of the HH-R Class of 1992. “I graduated in the top 10 of my class, and believed that I was adequately prepared for anything.”
However, for Smith-Dixon — and many high school graduates — college and life outside of the predominantly rural and high-poverty communities within OCSD 3 seemed overwhelmingly challenging.
When Smith-Dixon began Columbia College in Columbia, she said she realized she “was not ready for the rigorous competition with students from across the world.”
But deep within, she had a drive.
“I believed that I had the capacity to overcome these barriers and persevere,” Smith-Dixon said. “I did just that graduating undergrad with a 3.45 and going on to complete my M.Ed. at South Carolina State University and doctoral degree from Nova Southeastern University.”
And yet, in the 20 years since she and husband Marki J. Dixon graduated from HH-R, she said they’ve noticed that area students are facing similar challenges to the ones they faced two decades ago. Smith-Dixon is now the education program manager for the Georgia Department of Education, and Dixon works as the contracts coordinator for the Atlanta Police Department.
Both say that if a “life coach” or mentoring program had been available to them during their school years, then some of the challenges they faced after high school would have been easier to handle. The Dixons want to provide high school students with such mentors who will have meaningful influences on the lives of area students.
This past year, they did just that.
Called the Life Coaches for Success service project, the Dixons piloted the program at LMHS during the 2011-2012 school year.
“We worked with 34 students, which included 23 seniors and 11 juniors. Each student was assigned a life coach, who was required to make biweekly contacts for approximately six months,” Smith-Dixon said. “Many of the life coaches were not local and used technology as a source to communicate with the students. All except for one of the life coaches graduated from Holly Hill-Roberts High School.”
She describes the coaches as “ordinary people who did extraordinary work. They have great success stories — some in medicine, administration, education, business and law.”
Dixon worked as a coach for 2012 LMHS graduate Dustin Childers, 18, of Holly Hill. Childers plans to attend Greenville Technical College and become a diesel mechanic.
“I couldn’t have gotten through this year without my life coach,” Childers said. “He really helped me.”
Childers said that throughout the coaching partnership, Dixon reminded him to “stay focused” and “always have respect for myself and others.”
“I appreciated all of his tips. He gave me great advice,” he said.
Dr. Regina Lemmon coached 18-year-old Markashia Profit of Elloree, also a 2012 graduate of LMHS. Profit said Lemmon played an important role of her service learning project that was in conjunction with her English class.
“I did well with the project because of her support,” Profit said. “My life coach allowed me to practice my presentation skills with her class.
“I was so nervous, but it all paid off. I made a 94 on the project. She helped me to understand that I had to accomplish these skills to be successful in college, too.”
Profit, who will attend Benedict College in Columbia and major in criminal justice in the fall, described her experience in Life Coaches for Success as “meaningful.”
“I wish I could have even more time with my life coach, but I know she is a busy person,” she said
OCSD 3 superintendent Dr. Cynthia Cash-Greene praised the Dixons for their “work and desire in establishing the coaching program at Lake Marion High School.”
“Tapping into the experiences of past students and having them return to support the personal growth of students is priceless,” she said.
Smith-Dixon said her career experiences in both the S.C. and Georgia departments of education have given her opportunities to analyze needs in the community and across the nation
“I looked around to realize that students were still graduating from high school not prepared for college nor careers,” she said. “More importantly, this dilemma is intensified for students who are in economically disadvantaged communities.”
Former OCSD 3 superintendent Dr. David Longshore presented her with a specific challenge, Smith-Dixon said.
“Over the years, he challenged me to bring solutions, not just identify problems,” she said.
The Dixons surveyed students, who “shared concerns, including having a lack of money, communication skills, fear of failure and lack of self-discipline,” Smith-Dixon said. She also talked with business leaders, who said communication, conflict resolution and strategic thinking skills are among those lacking in students and recent graduates.
“People don’t necessarily realize that poverty can temporarily wire the brain differently,” Smith-Dixon said. “Life coaches were able to help students improve their soft skills — skills that may not show up as an item on a standardized test, but may make the difference in obtaining and maintaining employment.”
The Dixons say they refuse to let OCSD 3 be included in the “Corridor of Shame,” adding that OCSD 3 “is one community that will get this right.”
While the Dixons hope to implement their program at high schools throughout the state and nation, for now, Life Coaches for Success will continue to help the juniors — who are now seniors — at LMHS.
For more information about Life Coaches for Success, email Smith-Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact the writer: email@example.com.