Schools taking different approaches to drop-out problem

April 25, 2013 10:40:42 AM

Sarah Fowler - [email protected]


Local school districts are implementing new programs in hopes of encouraging students to complete their high school educations. 


The Lowndes County School District has started a GED program within the district and offers graduation coaches to those students who are taking an alternate route to getting a high school diploma. 


Students who do not complete high school may take a series of tests to earn a GED, a high school equivalency credential. 


"GED-2012-2013 is first year to do in-district (programs) at each high school," said Dr. Robin Ballard, Assistant Superintendent of the Lowndes County School District. 


"Our graduation coaches facilitate GED and have a total of 19 students who have completed the program so far this year. This is encouraging in comparison to only having four during the previous year."  


Ballard said the district has a five-year graduation rate of 73.1 percent and a four-year graduation rate of 74.7 percent. 


Graduation coach Megan Ruffin said she and the students feel a sense of accomplishment when the teens complete the program. 


"The rewarding part of the job is that we get to see these students, whom most people thought would never achieve success, become successful. And they are proud," she said. " It is also a benefit that we partner with East Mississippi Community College. As long as our kids pass their GED through the GED Options testing at EMCC they will qualify for the tuition guarantee there." 


Ballard said the cost of the program is almost $32,000. She said the cost to the district is worth the price for students to achieve. 


"We feel this is a service not only to these students by facilitating their high school completion, but in helping to secure their futures as productive citizens as they move into young adulthood with a sense of accomplishment and not a sense of defeat, failure, or being a quitter," she said. 


Dr. Martha Liddell, Superintendent for Columbus Municipal School District said students who drop out cost the district money. 


"It's almost $6,000 per kid and that's just the local and the state money. If you look at it, you're losing about $9,600 a child. If you let those kids hit the street you won't be receiving that money, which really just kills your budget," Liddell said. 


"Not only is it a bad situation for child and their future, it really affects the district's bottom line." 


Liddell said CMSD offers GED programs to students but she is focusing on a several different options for kids. One is Project 2020, a program that is designed to target students who have dropped out of school but wish to return. Project 2020 will have several e-centers throughout the city where students can learn in a traditional classroom environment but with smaller classes. 


"Project 2020 is not about getting kids a GED, it's about getting them a high school diploma," Liddell said. 


In addition to Project 2020, Liddell has focused on student peer groups as a way to reach teens who may not listen to parents or teachers. 


Five students from Columbus High attended a dropout summit in Jackson on Tuesday, lead by motivational speaker Shaun Derik. Liddell hopes those students will take what they learned and bring the information back to their peers. 


Rebekah Darcey, 18, DeMarcus Vance, 18, Bethany Jones, 15, Jack Fox, 16 and Porshia Brooks, 17, all agree that the summit was a great experience and wish their fellow classmates could have attended. 


"We have a lot of speakers here at CHS but (Derik) was one of the best I've heard," said Fox. 


Fox said he is determined to graduate high school and attend college because of the values his mother instilled in him. His mother died last year and the teen said he is more focused than ever. 


"My mom pushed me hard but she passed last year," he said. "I know I'm not going to get anywhere by stopping now." 


Vance said he feels some of his classmates don't try hard in school because "they just don't care. 


"Some people come to school just to come. They don't have a purpose." 


Jones said she tries to encourage her classmates to work hard and graduate because she knows not having a diploma will negatively affect their futures. 


"It's even harder now to get a job without a high school diploma," she said. 


At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, 22 students enrolled in the Columbus school district had dropped out of school, said CMSD Public Relations Director Michael Jackson. 


"As of today, we currently have 31 students who have withdrawn from school to enroll in GED programs," Jackson said. "We won't have an official dropout report until after this academic year end." 


The students in the peer group feel that when Project 2020 begins in June, their former classmates will have the same opportunity to graduate as those enrolled in the high school. 


"I think with Project 2020, you're learning," Brooks said. "If you're really dedicated to it you can succeed."

Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.