Kids who drop out of school face an uphill battle in today’s world. Armed with few skills and experiences, no diploma, and no proof they can finish something important, drop-outs often end up working minimum-wage jobs and needing government or charitable assistance on a regular basis.

In 2006-2007, nearly 60,000 Texas teenagers dropped out of school. Children from economically disadvantaged homes were most likely to leave school, and more boys than girls. Nearly 32 percent of all drop-outs were in their senior year of high school.

The last figures available for drop-outs are more than a year old because drop-outs aren’t considered lost until a year after their intended graduations. However, for 2006-2007, the state average for drop-outs was 3.9 percent. In Navarro County, the drop-out rates for most schools are lower than the state average, except for Corsicana, which had a drop-out rate of 8.7 percent in 2006-2007, up from 7.2 percent the year before.

However, the school district is predicting that figure will drop to less than 6 percent for 2007-2008, thanks to a series of initiatives begun at the high school, according to Rob Ludwig, spokesman for the Corsicana Independent School District.

Two years ago, the high school started a program called ATTACK, in which each student is assigned to an adult at the high school, and they meet in small groups on a regular basis to go over grades, and even in the students’ homes. Last year, the district began AVID, which beefs up students’ skills, like note-taking and test-taking, while also providing incentives, such as college trips and mentoring with local professionals.

Acronyms, such as TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), are a professional hazard in education. ATTACK stands for All Tiger Teachers Advocating for Corsicana Kids, while AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.

This year, the school’s counselors and police officers fanned out across the city to seek out the kids who didn’t show up for school again this year, Ludwig said.

“They were trying to find them and encourage them to come back, either in a regular classroom or Options (formerly Lee School of Choice),” Ludwig said. “On Sept. 15, 2007, we had 126 students unaccounted for, either drop-outs, or who just didn’t return. This year, after they did their runs all over the community, it was 26.”

If those students remain in school this year, the district’s drop-out rate could be less than 2 percent next year, Ludwig said.

Less than 2 percent is about par for the county’s smaller school districts. The best and worst aspect of a smaller school districts is that one student makes a big dent in a classroom and in a percentage.

For example, a high school with 130 enrollment that loses five students would have a 4 percent drop-out rate. At the same time, it’s easier to see students who are falling behind in a small school.

Last year, Blooming Grove, Dawson, Frost, Mildred and Rice formed a cooperative to address discipline and drop-out issues on their campuses. Located in Corsicana, which is central to all the member districts, the program has 12 students from five different high schools right now, said Beverly Smith, the credit recovery teacher at the cooperative.

“We served 26 students last year, and 22 graduated through the program,” she said.

It made the difference for some of them, she said.

“They wouldn’t have succeeded in regular school,” Smith explained. “Obviously, one (problem) is that the school environment, the socialization, is a distraction to them. They work better in this environment. It really has been a blessing for them, and myself.”

The cooperative school works like Options in Corsicana. Students can work at their own pace on a special curriculum, much of it on the computer, until they’re done. Some merely need help getting over the final hurdle — passing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).

“It’s helped our kids a lot,” said Mike Baldree, Blooming Grove superintendent. “A kid could not graduate due to the TAKS or whatever, and some kids just get so far behind they can’t see a way out. You try to work with those students.”

“That program saves kids,” said Becky Burns, assistant superintendent in Mildred. “The neat thing is, it’s not just helping Mildred Independent School District, but every member of the cooperative.”

The Options program moved from the former Lee School over the summer, and is now housed in the vocational education building at Corsicana High School. It usually has 60 students enrolled, but about 80 take after-school courses, said Diana Acock with the Options program.

“The majority of our students do graduate,” Acock said. “We pull back in some that were high school drop-outs, and try to catch them back up. The biggest hurdle we see is the exit-level TAKS. They’ll get all their coursework and struggle with the TAKS test.”

The Options program got quite a few students from the early fall roundup of drop-outs in Corsicana, most of whom needed TAKS remediation.

In order to make it as easy for kids to attend as possible, Options offers morning or afternoon hours for working students, Acock said.

“So long as the student is coming four hours a day we can work with that,” she said.

Corsicana has also applied for a $200,000 state grant to work specifically with drop-outs, Ludwig said.

If the school gets the grant, students will be able to enroll in training programs and internships to earn professional certifications in various fields while also getting their high school diplomas.

“It’s to increase services to students,” Acock said. “Vocational education and work courses, where they have more marketable skills, and hopefully, give them an incentive to come to school every day because it’s something that’s going to help them in their future.

“We put a lot of incentives in place for attendance, and really work with the students to make it as convenient for them as we can, and we’re offering a lot of options for them, and hopefully, that will be the answer,” Acock said.

Kerens Independent School District started its own alternative learning center in 1995. This semester, the program has only one student enrolled in the drop recovery program, but usually enrollment is about four or five, said Russ Crawford, principal at the Kerens Alternative Learning Center.

“It’s an opportunity if a kid wants to get out here and learn,” Crawford said. “The opportunity is there. They do it at their own pace. We try to help them, but when they’re in that situation they’ve got to have the desire to do it themselves. It’s self-motivated.

“It’s a good thing,” Crawford said. “Nearly 100 kids have graduated through the program since they started doing it in 1995. That would be 100 students who otherwise wouldn’t have made it.”

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jacobs@corsicanadailysun.com

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