The Valdosta Daily Times
For the next month, 690 of Georgia’s top upcoming high school juniors and seniors will be attending the Governor’s Honors Program held at Valdosta State University. For 50 years, the program has allowed the best of the best in the state to expand their knowledge of their chosen area and interact with others like them.
To be selected, each high school in the state is allotted a quota of the top 1 percent of their students in the chosen categories. This adds up to about 3,000 students statewide. Those 3,000 students are interviewed by judges and given a challenge in their respected field and scored on their responses and performances. Of the 3,000, less than a quarter will be selected to join the program.
Each year, the students chosen to be a part of the program flock to the school campus to learn about one of the 17 majors ranging from AgScience to dance to science.
Dale Lyles, the program director for GHP, was an attendee of the program when he was in high school. Lyles said of the experience, “It changed my life forever. I am who I am today because of what happened 43 years ago (when I attended GHP). It taught me the value of my brain; that I wasn’t the only strange kid out there. It made me realize I had the potential to do anything I wanted.”
Students are not graded and no scores are kept during the program. They are simply given problems or pieces to work on and allowed to find the answers or the perfect presentation their way. The program feels that these lessons help students grow in their fields beyond what they might be able to in a normal school setting.
In a normal school setting, students are taught to learn what the teacher is telling them. At the Governor’s Honors Program, students are free to find their own ways to resolve problems or execute performances and these lessons often carry them through their lives.
Some of the program’s attendees have gone on to use their skills in amazing ways. Jack McBrayer, from the TV show 30 Rock, was an attendee of GHP, as was Wayne Knight, from Seinfield. Georgia House Representative Edward Lindsey and Jeff Greenstein, producer for the TV shows “Will & Grace” and “Desperate Housewives,” also attended the program, along with many other well known politicians, TV personalities and scientists.
“Students here have to be willing to take risks. We free them for the first time, since first grade probably, to play at learning. We encourage them to push themselves to fail,” said Lyles.
And while the unofficial motto of pushing themselves to fail might concern those who are not in the program, students at GHP understand that this simply means that they have the freedom to figure out solutions on their own, with no worry of grade repercussions.
There are two mandates for the program each year. The first mandate is to provide instruction that is significantly different from the regular high school classroom, in terms of content, delivery strategies and expectation of student response.
Lyles explained this mandate as, “We cover topics that are not usually covered, in ways that high schools are not able to do. We have student oriented instruction instead of the teacher simply teaching what they know. We say here are the tools you need to do this thing you say you love to do, and they do it.”
The second mandate is to empower the students with the skills, knowledge, behaviors and attitudes necessary to become a lifelong learner. Lyles explained this as, “We want them to become independent lifelong learners.”