Sunday, August 8, 2004

Potential dropouts get extra help



By Ari Bloomekatz
Enquirer staff writer

Before Principal Thomas Madison started a program in 2001 targeting students at risk of failing at Dayton High School, many students would just drop out when they fell behind, said Vince Abbatiello, a site-based council member at the school.

Almost half of the students starting as freshmen in 1999 failed to graduate on time.

Madison joined the school in 2000, and a year later he said he began transforming its culture to stem the dropout rate. He started a program called "Stay" to give extra attention to students who needed help.

"It's probably the best program we've come out with. It gives kids an opportunity to work on what they need to," said Abbatiello, whose daughter will be a junior. He has two other children who graduated from Dayton High. "They get more individual help on the subject that they're having trouble in. Normally, those kids maybe have one or two subjects that really hurt them. It helps them to focus on that individual subject... It's a helping hand," Abbatiello said.

The school's graduation rate soon jumped more than 20 percentage points, from 54 percent graduating from the class of 2000 to more than 75 percent in the most recent graduating class, said Patricia Patterson, director of curriculum for Dayton Independent Schools. The school's dropout rate also decreased by more than half, from 9 percent in 1999-2000 to between 3 percent and 4 percent last year, Madison added.

Both Patterson and Madison credit the stay-in-school program.

"We started (the program) because our dropout rate was so high," Patterson said.

Dayton has nearly 465 students in grades seven through 12, and counselors and teachers begin the program by identifying eighth-graders who may need extra help or attention during their freshmen year.

Students who need extra help go to a different classroom near the administration office, where Madison said students receive one-on-one attention and are able to complete their work at a different pace.

Some students go to the classroom for only one or two periods a day until they pass a course they've had trouble in, but other students who need more help can be in the classroom the entire school day, said Sarah Funston, a 2003 graduate who credited the program with helping her get through a science course.

"(The) program is where they try to give you another chance," Funston said. "It's a room where if you fail the class, you can go in there and work at your own pace."

The increased graduation rate is especially exciting for Madison, because in Dayton, he said he sometimes has a hard time convincing youths it is worthwhile to stay in school.

"Sometimes it's like they feel they need to make money," Madison said, adding that peer influence and the perception of a paycheck can be appealing to some teenagers.

Another problem is retention, Madison said. If students are held back in middle or high school, they can get frustrated.

"Research has shown retention does absolutely nothing to getting that kid on track to do better in school," Madison said. The program helps keep retention in high school at a minimum, he said.

Dayton High is a small school in a small town. The building sits along the Ohio River off Ky. 8. A week before opening, maintenance crews were still painting and refurbishing parts of the building.

According to the Urban Institute, the national graduation rate is 68 percent. Even though Dayton's is well above the average, Madison said there is work to do and much room for improvement.

That is one of the reasons keeping kids in school and reinforcing graduation as a meaningful and worthwhile accomplishment are two of Madison's top priorities next year.

"My goal is to graduate every student that is eligible to graduate," Madison said. "I think it's attainable. That's no child left behind, and we don't intend to leave them behind."

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E-mail abloomekatz@enquirer.com




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