The two year pilot program geared toward dropout prevention known as “Early Connections” is now being instituted at 12 elementary and middle schools around the state. The program’s goal is to provide technical assistance and training, especially in analyzing school data in order to develop intervention strategies to reduce the number of potential at-risk students who may fail to graduate from high school.
The average high school graduation rate in the state from 2006 through 2008 was 73.3 percent using the new formula including transfers and those who obtained G.E.D.’s. Dr. John Lane of the State Department of Education’s At-Risk Projects, says the success of the program is predicated on instituting the three new R’s, rigor, relevancy, and relationships.”Students at risk or have the potential of being at risk of dropping out still need a rigorous academic curriculum. Additionally they need to be able to identify how what they’re learning in the classroom connects with their future career aspirations.”
Lane says at-risk students have for various reasons been disengaged from the learning process. Lane says relationships with counselors, teachers, and others are important in reengaging these students with the learning process.
Lane says an at-risk student can be any student regardless of socio-economic background, ethnicity, or gender. Lane says the National Dropout Prevention Center has identified 15 different variables that may place any student at risk. Lane says one clear measure of a child’s future academic success is the ability to read and comprehend.
“If a child does not do well with reading in the third grade, he or she may have as much as an 80 percent probability of dropping out of school. if that continues into the sixth grade and that student has not gained the requisite skills they need in reading by the sixth grade, they have a more than 92 percent probability of dropping out of school.”
Lane says similar data indicates that a mastery of basic mathematics skills is also an important indicator of a child’s future success in school.
Lane says the D.O.E.’S At-Risk Committee believes that a seamless flow of proactive intervention activities, from elementary school to middle school through high school, will prove very effective in reducing the number of potential dropouts, Lane says each school in the pilot program has been given the latitude to decide if they need more personnel or more educational tools.
“Some students may need additional one-on-one tutoring, soem may need additional mentoring. We give the schools the privilege to look at their particular needs with respect to their particular students and develop programs geared toward their individual students’ needs.”
Lane says the hope is that the program can be fine tuned in such a way that it can be instituted in all school districts throughout the state when the two year pilot program is completed.
Lane says it is important to note that many at-risk students do not have a clear cut identifiable problem like a learning disability or disadvantaged background. “There are many students who may not be identified with a learning disability or other special need that may affect their learning but they are still falling through the cracks. They may be academically very bright, but for some unknown reason have lost an interest in learning, have lost interest in the whole schooling process. That child is also very much at risk.”
Lane says it is important that these students must be reengaged in the learning process if the state is to significantly decrease its dropout rate.