Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 13, 2007

By Dr. Debra Morris
Special to the Citizen
Every year in North Carolina, 22,000 students drop out of high school. That’s more than twice the populations of Harrisburg, Landis and China Grove combined. While such statistics are sobering, we must never forget that a face lies behind every number. Dropouts are more than statistics, they are people, and they are our neighbors.
As a state and school district, we must do a better job of keeping children in school. In order to do that, we have to make school relevant, captivate students’ imaginations and make them fall in love with learning. At A.L. Brown, we’re making changes designed to help students want to be in school every day.
The biggest change we’re making is to add a Freshman Academy at A.L. Brown. Beginning in August, all freshmen will take their core courses together in one part of the building. This new “Wonder Academy,” as we’re calling it, will allow freshmen to stay together with a small group of teachers who will get to know them and help them make a more successful adjustment to high school. They will still be able to take electives in other parts of the building with older students, but they will spend most of their day together. We also will pair them with upper classmen who will be trained as mentors to help ninth graders find their way around campus and have a peer they can turn to for help. At A.L. Brown, we’re giving our students permission to care about each other, and we’re providing them with a connection to our staff and to each other that will help keep them in school.
We also have started something called “Bridge to Brown.” It’s a summer program that helps rising ninth graders learn their way around A.L. Brown, meet staff members and find out about courses and opportunities offered in our high school. We launched it last year, and it has been very successful at helping our new students make the transition to high school.
Another advantage of the Bridge to Brown program is that it allows them to visit college campuses and helps them understand that college is within their reach both academically and financially if they are willing to apply themselves and seek grants and scholarships.
Part of keeping students in school is meeting their needs beyond just the classroom. For example, some students become parents much too early or feel they must get jobs to help support their families financially. Others get into trouble with their behavior and are suspended from school. When these circumstances happen, many feel they have no choice but to drop out of school. We want to give them other options. That’s why we’ve got a Second Chance Program and a Nova Net lab that allow students to come back to school even after they’ve dropped out, had a child, or been suspended. They can take courses early in the morning or after school on a flexible schedule and stay on track for graduation. We want to make sure they know we will provide whatever resources we can to help them graduate and become successful.
Earning a diploma is an important part of life’s success, but life and school are about much more than just earning a diploma. We must build a love of learning in students and make school an important and caring place in their lives. Only when we create that love of learning will our students really be prepared to succeed in life. We’re reaching out to do that at A.L. Brown, and we believe the future is bright for our students, our school, our community and our state.
Dr. Debra Morris is principal of A.L. Brown High School.