The Power of Faith and Optimism

June 11, 2018

John Richey

Helen Keller said, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.  Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” This has never been more evident than at Sulligent High School in Lamar County where the faith of one confident, optimistic, and dedicated counselor has had a profound impact on her students.

The town of Sulligent was formed in 1897 in rural Lamar County. By 1922 funds were appropriated to form a school for children in the area.  Soon after, Sulligent School opened and has been proudly serving the area ever since. The school claims notable artists, scholars, and athletes among alumni and has been an integral part of the community for almost a century.  Today, the school serves grades 7 – 12 with an enrollment of approximately of 400 students.

In 2015, changes began to occur at the school that would have a profound effect for teachers and students:  Sulligent School began a partnership with A+ College Ready. to create a  culture of high academic expectation for all teachers, students and administrators.  Teachers began attending training in the summers to enrich and increase the rigor of the academic curricula of the four core subject areas (math, science, language arts, and social studies).  Sulligent began that year by offering AP Language, AP Literature, AP Statistics, AP Biology, and AP Chemistry.  As a result of these efforts, nine students made history at Sulligent High School; they earned qualifying scores on the Advanced Placement exams.This exciting accomplishment has helped make a positive change to the culture and environment of the school and beyond.

Mrs. Kathy Dean is the Guidance Counselor (and cheerleader sponsor) at Sulligent.  In 2015, she wrote the initial grant to bring A+ College Ready into the school. When asked why she took this step, her response was “I wanted our students to have access to the same opportunities that students in larger schools like Hoover have.  So many scholarship applications take into consideration whether students have taken AP exams or passed AP exams, and our students had to leave those sections blank. I had faith that our students had the ability to succeed at this level. They just lacked the opportunity”   Mrs. Dean did not stop pushing for more opportunities for her students and more AP courses have been added. AP United States History was added in 2016 and AP Physics in 2017.

I recently had the privilege of meeting three of the students who qualified on these exams.  Brooke Sandlin graduated in 2017 and now attends Bevill State Community College. Colin Gann graduated in 2018.  He plans to attend Bevill State before transferring and becoming an aerospace or mechanical engineer. James Aaron Trentham also graduated this year and will attend the University of North Alabama.  He plans to become a math teacher. They each said the work was challenging but worth the effort and it really expanded their perspectives and thought processes. Brooke, who is unsure of her future plans, was especially impressed by the increased depth of subject matter and vibrant discussions in classes.  “the ability to discuss and defend various perspectives really opened my eyes” She also said the classes really prepared her for college and she has made all A’s in her freshman year.

I asked them what is like to be the first students in the history of Sulligent School  to qualify on an AP exam and their responses were inspirational . James said “being the first makes us role models to younger students.  Our actions in the classroom will hopefully encourage others to challenge themselves academically and take more AP courses” Colin’s response was similar.  “I am proud of our teachers for accepting the challenge. They did a fantastic job in preparing us throughout the year. I am thankful for the opportunity and that someone had the faith in us that we could succeed at this level”

The success at Sulligent School has spread to the other schools in Lamar County.  South Lamar High School and Lamar County High School are now Pipeline schools with A+ College Ready with plans to become Program schools by the 2019 -20 academic school year.  I asked Lisa Wright (Assistant Principal at South Lamar High School) why they chose to become an A+ College Ready school. Her response echoed the sentiments of Mrs. Dean, “We heard about what was taking place at Sulligent and investigated A+ College Ready.  All our research pointed to the positive effects and success of the program. It really helps teachers and students. It is not just about passing the AP exams but the preparation for success at the college level that matters. “

The growth of the AP program helped bring about other positive changes to Sulligent.    Mrs. Dean has initiated College Signing Day in which students receiving academic scholarship sign their transcript release to their chosen college in front of friends and family.  Tables are set up with the college banners and decorations and the atmosphere is exciting, positive, and academically centered.


Mrs. Dean found the hope and confidence that Helen Keller spoke of in the graduating class of 2018 in which 62 students received $4.7 million in scholarships. This is the most scholarship money ever awarded to students at Sulligent High School.   Optimism may really be the faith that leads to achievement!