School officials combat dropout rates

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Dropout rates are a big concern in the East Baton Rouge School District. Statewide, around 9,300 kids dropped out before graduation last school year. Dropping out not only hurts a child's future, it affects the whole community.

One out of nine kids nationwide will not make to graduation, according to the CHOICES Education Group. Many say that rate is an epidemic that effects everyone.

"Of course, there's a high correspondence between dropouts and poverty and homelessness and incarceration and prison and crime," said Leo Muller, exec. dir. of CHOICES Education Group.

The CHOICES program is a nation retention program aimed at keeping kids in school with the help of local businesses.

Rotary District 6200 is partnering with the group to hold local CHOICES workshops. The program shows local businessmen and women how to talk to kids about the connection between good education and success in life. Then, the volunteers go into eighth and ninth grade classes to encourage kids to stay in school.

"For that time, you are the positive role model for the kids who a lot of times don't have role models or don't have positive ones. The goal is to have kids grasp form that person, 'I have options in my life. I can make choices. They have consequences. If I make positive choices, I'm going to have positive outcomes,'" Muller explained.

Dropout rates also impact the community financially. According to Muller, the lifetime cost to take care of dropouts is $290,000 per dropout. Considering that around 9,300 students dropped out in Louisiana last year, that cost adds up quickly.

Anyone can get involved to help with CHOICES and the Rotary Club. For more information on volunteering click here.

Of course, local schools are also doing their part to improve the graduation rates.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, the graduation rate for 2011 in East Baton Rouge Parish is 62.3 on the Cohort Graduation Rate, which is a measure based on the percentage of students who enter the ninth grade and graduate four years later.

While that is an improvement  over past years, educators believe that rate can be even higher.

At Sherwood Middle Academic Magnet School, teachers use every trick in the book to keep students engaged from electives like robotics to utilizing the state individual graduation plan.

"It's designed so the students can think ahead, they can plan their courses, their curriculum even the courses they want to take in college for their career," said school counselor Ellen Decuir.

"One of the key things or key factors in reducing the dropout rate is making sure when the kids enter the building that there are exciting, innovated activities going on and that means the students will be that much more engaged and want to learn," said lead magnet teacher Sharon Sims.

Tara High School in the East Baton Rouge School District is also working to improve its graduation rates. The school has a Freshmen Academy that is now in its fourth year. The academy focuses on helping freshmen students adjust to the challenges of high school.

Tara High School was also chosen to be a part of the LSU's Upward Bound Program. The program targets at risk freshmen students, and follows them through high school. It includes ACT Prep, help enrolling into college and support throughout their high school career.

The first students from Tara to be involved in the Upward Bound Program will be chosen in January.

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