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Committee searches for ways to increase graduation rate

Eight out of 10 students who drop out of high school will spend time in prison.

That’s a fact Buffy Lusk, chair of the GOT (Graduate On Time) committee, said should be sobering for all high school students but evidently it’s not.

In 1983, the nation’s high school graduation rate had risen to 75 percent. However, over the past 25 years, despite growth in knowledge and resources to assist schools, the nation has made virtually no progress in graduating more students from high school, ready for college, the workforce and a productive future.

For that reason, representatives from Pike County and Goshen high schools met in committee Monday to determine what can be done to keep students in school and graduate on time.

The GOT committee also included several participants from a pool of community, civic and business leaders who were invited to participate. Jimmy Ramage, mayor of Brundidge; Jack Waller, mayor of Goshen; Lawrence Bowden, Brundidge city councilman; and Tammy Powell, Pike County Extension coordinator, accepted the invitation and participate in the session.

Lusk said recent increases in the system-wide graduation rate are encouraging but far from where is needs to be.

“In 2006, the graduation rate was 60 percent,” Lusk said. “That jumped to 76.97 percent in 2007 and was 79.85 percent in 2008. That is encouraging.”

Elizabeth Grubbs said what is needed, though, is 100 percent.

“Ninety-nine percent won’t do,” she said.

The committee members agreed that a 100 percent graduation rate would be the benchmark but questioned whether that is even a possibility. Certificate “graduates,” GED students who fail to pass and the influence of ‘No Child Left Behind’ are some of the factors that impact the graduation rate and are beyond the control of the local schools.

In open discussion, they participants listed pregnancy, jobs and the GED opportunity are among the top reasons students drop out of county schools.

The committee broke into small groups and the groups were challenged with writing an action plan for the community that would increase the number of students who stay in school and those who will graduate on time.

In their reports to the committee, the consensus of the groups was that parental involvement is a most important factor in keeping students in school.

“If parents don’t think that it’s important that their children stay in school and graduate, then, more than likely, the students will have the same attitude,” Powell said. “Parental programs that allow parents to get assistance that would better qualify them to help their children with homework and understand the importance of a diploma would be very beneficial.”

After-school tutorial programs were another solution to keeping students who have fallen behind from giving up. Raising the age that a student can legally drop out of school from 17 to 18 was another suggestion.

Co-op programs that would allow students to work and attend high school were suggested. It was also suggested that schools could work with local businesses and encourage them not to hire a high school dropout unless the student enrolled in a GED class.

The incorporation of reality checks whereby students would go through real situations on a minimum wage salary to show what might happen would give students a glimpse at the reality of what life as a dropout could be like.

Encouraging more students to participate in extracurricular activities would give them ownership of the school and make them more likely to stay in school.

All members of the committee agreed early intervention is a key to keeping kids in school.

Bowden said a recent study revealed students may display patterns of behavior that place them at-risk as high school dropouts as early as third grade.

If these students are identified and intervention programs initiated, the dropout rate could be drastically reduced.

Mark Bazzell, superintendent of Pike County Schools, expressed appreciation to the GOT committee for its dedication to task.

“The dropout rate is always a concern for us and anything that we can do to solve the problem, we want to do,” he said. “What we are seeing is that students who get to the ninth grade a year or two behind will usually go out the door before we want them to. For some kids, the traditional high school is not the answer. There are more ways to skin a cat than one and it’s up to us to find them. I thank you all for being here and for the work that you are doing.”