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A second shot at success

TIFFIN– Twenty percent of high school students in Iowa fail to graduate, according to Boostup.org, a national high school dropout prevention initiative by a partnership between the Ad Council and the United States Army.
At the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) school district, three students in grades nine through 12 dropped out in the 2010-2011 school year, according to the Iowa Department of Education. The number is lower than neighboring Solon (where seven dropped out in the same year) or Iowa City, which had 94 students quit.
But even one student lost is one too many.
CCA High School Principal Mark Moody outlined a new program being rolled out this fall to try and bring back previous students who left and never graduated. Moody introduced the program to the district board of directors at its regular monthly meeting, Wednesday, Aug. 15, in Oxford.
“The regular structure of a traditional high school just didn’t work for them, for whatever reason,” Moody said.
According to the National Dropout Prevention Center, a variety of school-related factors, several student-related causes and even community and family-related deficiencies can all contribute to a student’s frustration and failure. School factors include a lack of adequate counseling or relevant curriculum, disregard for a student’s learning style and low expectations placed on the student.
The student themselves may have a poor attitude toward school, attendance issues and behavioral problems or poor relationships with their peers. Teen pregnancy and drug use also can lead a student to dropout.
The community at-large may lack support services for at-risk students, have little support for their school or experience a breakdown between the school and the community. The center also looks at low socio-economic status, lack of parental involvement and low parental expectations as contributing factors.
By utilizing space in the West Campus building, home to the district’s Transitional Program, Moody hopes to increase the district’s graduation rate and get these former students the diploma they need to be successful in life.
CCA Director of Special Services Mike Hooley and the Transition Program will facilitate the dropout prevention effort, while High School Facilitator Mike Potter will be the administration’s point of contact. Erin White, the parent and family liaison and online learning coordinator, has been reaching out to many of the district’s dropouts, asking them “Can we get you to come back?” So far, Moody said, about a dozen have expressed interest in the opportunity.
Special education specialists Michelle Staudt and Angela Tjaden, as well as math and science faculty, will rotate to work with the returning students. The students will have three curriculum options available in order to find a methodology that best fits their needs and learning styles. They will be able to mix and match, said Moody, making it a tailored-fit and using online educational resources as well as face-to-face interactions. CCA teachers have designed courses to replace what the students didn’t do so well in the first time, and Kirkwood Community College’s Distance Learning Center is also contributing curriculums. The students will also have the option of taking Kirkwood courses with the district recognizing credit for those classes and applying them to the graduation requirement.
“The majority of these students will not be in the building all day, most only have six, eight, 10 credits to go (to earn their diploma),” Moody said.
Upon their return, the students will meet individually with White to set goals and develop an individualized learning plan, taking into consideration other demands on their time such as jobs or childcare needs. Time isn’t really on the students’ side, as they have until they turn 21 to complete the program, unless they are special education students in the Transitional Program.
Moody hastened to add the program will only offer core curriculum classes, no electives. “This is not meant to replace in any shape or form the High School.” He also stressed this is not an alternative high school, or alternative program. Moody said he’s received a number of calls from parents wanting to send their kids to the “alternative school,” which, he emphasized, this is not. It also is not the ideal situation for 16-year old dropout as the district requires 56 credits including electives. However, Moody said eventually there could conceivably be a mix in the high school and West Campus to get such students those elective courses.
Upon completion, the returning student would be eligible to walk across the stage during the graduation ceremony in May. Students can participate in the ceremonies with 48 credits, but will not receive their diplomas until all 56 credits are obtained.
Looking at student retention, Moody said the program might help keep a senior thinking of bailing out in school.
“They’ve earned most of their credits already,” he said. “In lieu of throwing them to the wind, how about we try this?”
In addition to the benefits to the students and society in general, the program also will benefit the district. Any student enrolled in the program on Oct. 1 will be included in the district’s certified enrollment. The state uses that number to determine how much money the district will receive next year.
“It’s a way to reach out; it’s another option available to them,” Moody concluded.