A highly competitive, statewide initiative, the Governor’s Honors Program (GHP) is a residential summer program hosted in Valdosta, Georgia, that allows high school students to pursue their academic interests in a more intensive environment. This summer, three Westminster students participated in GHP in a variety of fields ranging from jazz to the communicative arts. During the school year, students are nominated by teachers or adults for a specific subject (their “major”) and then go through an application process, which includes an interview, in order to obtain a spot in the elite program. Once chosen, students also elect a minor to go along with the major for which they’ve already been selected.
“I think Governor’s Honors was really the beginning of me kind of taking charge of my academics and my career,” said English teacher Jennifer Dracos-Tice, who attended GHP as a student in high school.
In addition, the Governor’s Honors Program presents a special atmosphere for high school students, mirroring the college experience.
“It was like being in college,” said Dracos-Tice. “We went to seminars, did a final project, decorated our dorm rooms. It was a really great experience.”
Living in dorms together with new people in an unfamiliar location was a fundamental aspect of the learning process as well, allowing the students to develop the ability to adjust and thrive in an unknown environment.
“The residential part of it plays a huge part because we’re in Valdosta, which is really far away from Atlanta, and we get a lot more free time to hang out with friends,” said 2015 GHP attendee Tate Burwell. “You learn about yourself and especially how to adapt to a totally unknown situation.”
Another major benefit of program is that it’s completely government-funded, meaning students attend four weeks of academic, cultural and social enrichment without paying any tuition.
“Aside from learning about intellectual stuff, it was more learning about the different types of people that were there,” said 2014 GHP attendee Pranav Rekapalli. “It’s just such a different experience from Westminster because of the diverse group of people. You learn a lot about what’s going on in different parts of the state. I’d just say you gain a much wider perspective.”
In addittion, the open structure of GHP gives students the chance to learn and grow in new areas of interest, allowing them to incorporate exploration into the learning process.
“My minor was journalism, and I hadn’t ever done journalism like that before,” said Burwell. “I’ve done Evolutions, but this was different. It was just so interesting. We got to interview lots of different heads of the program as well as take their pictures; it was a really different and special experience.”
Without a set curriculum, students are free to learn however they choose, whether it be from doing fun projects, organizing events, or meeting influential people, students in GHP take a multi faceted approach to learning.
“The first thing is that there’s no grades and no set curriculum,” said Burwell. “For us, that amounted to assignments like thinking up our own pick-up lines in Spanish or organizing a soccer tournament for all the foreign language majors.”
Similarly, without the pressure of doing well on tests and quizzes, students can relax and learn about the subject they enjoy more in a more profound way.
“We also do this thing called ‘trading spaces’ that all the foreign language majors do,” said Burwell, “where we each decorate each other’s rooms with elements of the culture and the language that they’re speaking. So, there’s just a lot of different ways to implement what we’re learning besides the more conventional way.”
Rekapalli agrees with Burwell, arguing that the removal of formal assignments contributed to more open discussion and to more inquisitive mindset.
“There was no pressure of a test to study for or material to get in before a deadline. It was just learning for the sake of learning, so we could do whatever the class wanted to do,” said Rekapalli. “If someone asked a question, you could just go off on a tangent for the entire class. It was just a super chill atmosphere where you could actually learn about what you wanted to learn about.”
The Governor’s Honors Program takes learning to a new level for students who are willing and interested. They are able to reach new heights through the unique, open environment, providing them with the space to really excel in an area they are passionate about.
“I saw how deep the focus was at Governor’s Honors,” said Dracos-Tice, “and I think every high school kid should get an opportunity like that before college.”