09/07/09 — Officials take aim early at stopping dropouts

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Officials take aim early at stopping dropouts

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 7, 2009 1:46 PM

Guidance counselors -- and a commitment form for students to sign -- are being touted as another option for discouraging high school dropouts.

Concerned about the dropout rate, the district distributed the form to area high schools this year as a preventive measure when students consider dropping out.

Just as students typically approach guidance counselors for directions on preparing for college, those contemplating leaving school before graduating should be counseled on possible consequences, officials say.

A dropout prevention committee was introduced in the district several years ago, said Dr. Ruby Bell, director of middle schools and staff development. While the committee disbanded, the effort is ongoing.

"As a part of trying to be proactive, we want to keep them in high school," she said. "But we have got to start way before they get to high school."

Dr. Bell helped create the message being circulated around the county this fall, titled "Get the Message About Dropping Out of School."

Its aim was simple -- motivate students to carefully consider the rights, privileges and opportunities that are thwarted by dropping out of school.

"The intent was if a student went to the guidance office and said, 'I'm going to drop out,' they would hand them this form and say, 'Before you do anything else, we want you to read this, sign it and get your parents to sign it,'" said Dr. Ralph Smith, director of secondary education. "This was another tool to help kids think before they make that decision."

Guidance counselors have been instructed to discuss the consequences with students, so they know going in exactly what they could be giving up by leaving school without a high school diploma, Smith said.

Those consequences range from difficulty finding employment or making as much money as their peers with diplomas or college degrees, to the statistics for engaging in criminal activity or spending time in prison. Also on the list are having to rely on public assistance, and ultimately being unable to properly care for or educate their own children one day.

The idea, the officials say, is not a scare tactic, but rather a wake-up call.

"We are doing everything we can to try to help kids understand how important it is to stay in school," Smith said.

"When you look at the way it's counted, if a student drops out of public school, even if they go to a program like they have at Wayne Community College and obtain a degree, they're still counted as a dropout."

While individual schools have the option of how to introduce the dropout form to encourage students to stay in school, officials said the original idea was for guidance counselors to have the resource in place "just in case" a student considered dropping out.

"Use this form when a student comes to you (guidance counselor)," Dr. Bell said. "But tell them, look at this, these are the things you're going to have to endure."

"Students would be asked to sign the form, indicating their understanding of its message," Smith said. "In turn, a parent or guardian as well as the counselor or social worker would also sign the form."