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Editorial: Communities strive to keep kids in school

Feb. 02, 2013 @ 10:00 PM

In recent years, schools and communities have been working to reduce high school dropout rates, and it is good to report some signs of success.

Last month, the Department of Education released a study that showed the graduation rate has improved a little nationally with about 78 percent of high school freshmen getting their diploma on time in the spring of 2010. Losing more than 20 percent of your students is not much to write home about, but the national rate has been 75 percent or less for much of the last decade.

The study also showed improvement in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, which posted graduation rates between 78-81 percent for 2010.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan speculated that the difficult economy may be keeping some students in school, but the increased focus from schools and communities seems to be helping as well.

In Cabell County, for example, high schools have created new "graduation coach" positions as part of the Innovation Zone program and seeing some good results. In 2009-2010, Cabell County had more than 200 students drop out, but after adding the coaches, the dropouts fell to 128 in 2010-2011 and 95 last year.

At both Huntington High and Cabell-Midland, there was an extra effort to identify at-risk students and provide them with a little more support, either through community volunteers or assistance from the coaches themselves.

"You build relationships with kids and be someone they can come to every single day," said Cabell Midland graduation coach Becky Runion. "They know someone is there for them."

Team teaching, freshmen academies and other initiatives on the high school and middle school level also are helping keep students on track. That also shows up in a recent decline in discipline problems and higher freshmen attendance rates.

"We're giving kids hope by keeping them engaged," said Todd Alexander, the administrative assistant for Secondary Schools.

On another front, the United Way of the River Cities last year helped launch the Education Matters effort, which has mobilized community organizations and volunteers in dropout prevention efforts, including a middle-school mentors program.

It is good to see all those efforts because the stakes are high. The life and job outlook for dropouts gets tougher every year. Too often these young people struggle to earn a living wage, and eventually society begins to foot the bill.

Making sure high school students succeed and get their diplomas helps everyone.

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