Educators look to up grad rates

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tonya McGinty, a recent YES program graduate, navigates a rope course at a recent conference at Auburn University. Courtesy photo

Forty-fifth in the nation isn’t a great ranking for a state that prides itself on being No. 1 in college football for the past three years.

But it’s much better than 47th or 48th, and shows Alabama is moving in the right direction, said Linda Tilly, executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children.

The 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book released today by the national Annie E. Casey Foundation gives Alabama its best ranking in overall child well-being since the Data Book began publication in 1990. Alabama ranks 45th among the 50 states for child well-being.

In the past, the ranking was based on 10 indicators; this year, it was expanded to 16.

While county numbers have not been released, one alarming number in the state is the high school graduation rate: 60 percent. It’s a problem already being addressed locally, and local educators say the key is involvement.

“Unfortunately, kids who decided to drop out don’t understand this is one of the biggest decisions of their life, and they’re making it when they’re at the dumbest point in their life,” said Andalusia Superintendent Ted Watson. “They don’t understand the consequences of that decision and how it will affect the rest of their life.

“You have to keep a kid involved to keep their attention – just like with anything else in life,” he said. “At school, we do that through extracurricular activities and by developing relationships with the students.”

Watson and Alane Brunson, curriculum coordinator for the Covington County School System, said programs are in place to not only identify those at risk of dropping out, but also for getting academic assistance to prevent it from happening.

“All of our schools track students based on attendance and discipline issues,” Brunson said. “Attendance is a major indicator that there may be issues. We do a universal screening three times a year to be proactive in identifying those students at both the elementary and the high school level. Dropouts aren’t just a high school problem. It starts in elementary school.”

All area schools have tutoring programs and counseling programs in place to help with academic issues. There is also the availability of dual enrollment classes where students learn a trade such as aviation and diesel mechanics.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times what happens is, the mold for kids is poured by time they come to ninth grade,” Watson said.

Watson said he hopes the new e-block system at Andalusia High School will work to keep kids engaged in education.

“For 8 ½ weeks, students will be in a teacher-sponsored development course where outsiders are brought in to discuss everything from personal finance to archery,” he said. “It goes back to involvement.”

In the county schools, students also have intervention and remedial classes during the regular school day, if needed.

“And we track all students to make sure they’re getting the academic help they need,” Brunson said. “If they lose their way and want to get back on track, we can make it happen.”

Students who do drop out are far more likely to find themselves in juvenile court, District Judge Trippy McGuire said.

“Those that I do see that are in school, generally are behind,” McGuire said. “They’re not making the best grades. It’s very rare you see well-rounded, top students in legal trouble.”

More often than not, the kids who get in trouble in Covington County are from single-parent homes, and many are living with their grandparents. Most of the juveniles who get in trouble here are white, he said.

“ If they do have both parents, they’re usually both more interested in partying than parenting,” the judge said.

There are a number of programs to help those who have dropped out or are in trouble. The South Central Mental Health Center runs a national parenting program. The Children’s Policy Council’s Peer Helpers program seeks to use positive role models in the county’s high schools. And LBWCC’s YES program is designed to help those who have dropped out. (See related story.)

To access information Kids Count information for Alabama go to