Alternative programs seek to cut schools' dropout rate

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 3, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
Eduardo Carrillo dropped out his sophomore year at Salisbury High School, leaving to work full time at Old Carolina Brick.
When he got laid off, Carrillo decided it was time to go back to school.
The second time around, he attended West Rowan.
But Carillo was in danger of dropping out again after receiving the news that his girlfriend was pregnant last fall.
“I knew I needed to find another job,” he said.
Carillo knew it would be hard to find one if he was in school every day.
That’s where night school came in.
The program allows students to take three courses during a three-hour block Monday through Thursday afternoons. It also enables them to receive credit for failed classes through an online program that takes about 60 hours to complete.
West and Carson piloted night school last year starting in March, and 18 graduates in last year’s class were part of that program.
Salisbury and South Rowan launched their own night school programs this year.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System is touting the night school initiative as part of its solution to improving the dropout rate.
Last year’s rate — the percentage of high school students who dropped out in a given school year — fell to the lowest point in a decade, with 214 students leaving school for a rate of 3.36. The rate the previous year was 4.24, with 276 students quitting school.
Five years ago, 380 students dropped out for a rate of 5.47.
Allison Doby, a guidance counselor and night school coordinator at West Rowan, said night school has been a success, helping keep students who are at-risk of dropping out because of pregnancy, work, behavioral problems and frequent absenteeism in class.
“I’ll be honest with you, there are a few students who would not still be in school right now without this,” Doby said. “I think we should do anything and everything for our kids to make sure they get to graduation,” she said.
Independent setting
Night school doesn’t involve a teacher standing at the front of a room, lecturing about the same subject to everyone.
Instead, students work on assignments provided by the teacher they would have had during normal school hours.
Two teachers supervise the program each night, assisting with questions and providing feedback.
The classrooms where the program is held are silent as students read and wrap up assignments either online or on paper.
“It’s definitely an independent setting,” said Brooke Misenheimer, Carson’s intervention specialist and night school coordinator. “I think sometimes there are students who work better in an independent setting because they have a quiet atmosphere with fewer distractions.”
That’s part of the appeal to Tonya Claytor.
“It’s so much better than daytime school because I get to be on my own,” she said. “I can actually concentrate and get more work done than I ever have before.”
The Carson senior said she initially dropped out because she disliked going to school.
“In 11th grade, I started having family problems. And then it went downhill and I hated coming to school,” she said. “Then they offered me night school, and now I love it.”
West Rowan senior Kaitlyn Parton said she struggles a lot less in night school because of the one-on-one attention and the ability to do her work online from home if she falls behind or misses a day.
Parton said she dropped out to look for a job at the end of her junior year.
“I live with my boyfriend’s parents, but I still have bills like phone, car insurance and gas. Plus, I try to help out as much as possible,” she said.
Attending night school has been less daunting to Parton, who said she was planning to drop out again after returning to school this fall.
She said she’s excited to be receiving her diploma in June, a feat neither one of her parents accomplished.
“The realization that I’d be the first one in my family to graduate kind of motivates me,” she said. “I want to be able to know I succeeded and was able to finish out what I started.”
Carrillo said he’ll also be the first person in his family to graduate, an accomplishment he hopes his younger siblings will notice. His father only got to third grade and his mother didn’t make it past ninth grade.
“I want to be able to do better than them,” he said. “I just want to get out of school and find a job, and that diploma is going to help me get a better job.”
Aaron Beam, a sophomore at Carson, described the night school atmosphere as “very good,” saying the teachers are supportive.
“I was planning to drop out because my family needed extra money,” he said. “And they told me this was a good plan B, and it truly is.”
Beam said he’s sure he wouldn’t finish high school without the program.
“It’s the best opportunity I’m going to get,” he said.
Not for everyone
Doby said night school isn’t for everyone, and it shouldn’t be.
“A lot of the kids that come up to meet with me think it’s an easy way out, but it’s not,” she said. “We try to weed out those people. We want them to know the seriousness of this program.”
Misenheimer said night school is often a “last ditch” effort to get students to graduation.
“When the other traditional efforts have not worked, we look at night school,” she said.
Students are not allowed to miss more than seven days of night school and cannot be tardy more than four times.
Misenheimer said when students join the program, they sign a contract that outlines the policies and expectations. Discipline issues are not tolerated, she said.
And when students don’t follow the rules, Misenheimer said, they have to leave the program.
“It’s not been a 100 percent effective type of thing,” she said “But it has helped a number of student who otherwise would not have been able to get the credits to graduate.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.