Berrien County fights drop out rate - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Berrien County fights drop out rate

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December 4, 2006

Berrien County - Statistics show almost 2500 students drop out of US high schools every day.

19 year-old James Keefe became one of those students when he dropped out of Berrien County High school.  "People wanted to do other stuff besides school and I did it.  We figured it wasn't cool or something," Keefe says.

A few months later he found himself an inmate in the Berrien County jailhouse and deeply regretting his decisions. "Do you wish you stayed in school?" asks reporter Alicia Eakin.

"I do," Keefe answers.  "I wish I did."

In fact, over 80 percent of inmates in the jail are high school drop outs.

So the state decided to fight back and brought in a graduation coach in attempts to reduce this number.  "I work with students individually to make sure they're on target for graduation and those that aren't, I pull them in and for one on one time.  Sometimes if they need to talk, I talk," says Berrien County High School graduation coach Sheila Hendley.

Since joining Berrien High school this year, she has helped countless students stay in school.

But with 40 percent of the students still walking away without a diploma, it's sometimes a daunting task for just one.  "That's probably the most frustrating day you can spend is losing one and knowing that nothing you did could convince them to want to stay," Hendley adds.

But seeing a major improvement in test scores and the graduation rate has kept her going.  "Three years ago we were at 50 percent.  Now we're at 58, almost 59 percent.  And if the data holds forth like we believe it will, it looks like we've got a real good change of going over 70 percent in the graduating classes in May."

They now hope more schools will follow their lead to keep kids in school, off the streets and out of jail.  "It ain't worth it, dropping out!  Stay in there!" Keefe exclaims.

This is the first year the graduation coach program has been implement in Georgia Schools.  There are about 400 coaches throughout the state.

Hiring a graduation coach at Berrien High School is just one of the many programs they've begun to help increase the graduation rate and test scores.

The School has also begun after school tutoring, individual mentoring program with teachers, cram sessions and an eight week course for juniors getting ready to take graduation tests.

Teachers say that since the programs began, students have had an easier time with the test producing better test scores.  "It helps a lot. You get to question and talk to the students, look at the areas that they're having difficulties and explain and reinforce," says Louis Burns, a Science teacher at Berrien High.

High School faculty and staff hope to implement even more programs in the near future.

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