PERU - The consensus of educational leaders from across the North Country is that curbing the drop-out rate in high schools is among the chief concerns.
Representatives from school districts within the Clinton-Essex-Warren-Washington School Boards Association came together at Cricket's Restaurant Jan. 8 to discuss strategies they've developed to combat the ever-troubling problem.
Beekmantown Central School District was one of the schools highlighted during the evening. Social studies teacher Amy Campbell shared her school district's progress in strengthening the district's educational standards in recent years.
One of the first programs implemented was New Beginnings, an alternative program for students who failed several ninth grade classes with either few or no credits. The program involves utilizing teachers, additional instructors and aides to help returning freshman with not only completing the work they should have their first time around, but also the work necessary to bring them back to their appropriate grade level, said Campbell.
"It's an alternative setting for them," she explained. "They made poor choices as ninth-graders, now we're going to help them make better choices and guide them."
Raymond Relation, a member of Beekmantown's junior class, said he is grateful for the program. He fell behind in his studies his freshman year, though through the New Beginnings program, he was given second chance to improve his grades and take on the extra work necessary to bring him back in line with his class, the junior class, this year.
"I'm there now, but I didn't get there by myself," said Relation. "I had the help of teachers, teachers aides. They bugged me, but I did what they told me to do.
The program and the encouragement he received, said Relation, gave him the confidence and desire to improve himself. He now plans to join the U.S. Army after high school to "better my life."
James O'Connell, president of this year's freshman class at Beekmantown, said the challenges seemed daunting upon first entering the high school. O'Connell was identified as a student who would benefit from extra help in Earth science through another program established by the school district. The program was created a few years ago as part of the school's Freshman Academy, which helps ease the transition for students from middle school to high school.
"I am having no trouble with my classes with the programs our teachers have set up for us. There's no stress," he said.
Though the label of being an underachiever can sometimes come with receiving additional help, O'Connell said that's not the case at Beekmantown.
"It's a good feeling because I know I'm getting my work done and I know I'm bettering myself," said O'Connell. "And, it's a great feeling because you know someone is out there wanting to help you."
"The biggest thing Freshman Academy has given us is communication," said Campbell. "The amount of discussion between teachers, counselors, students, parents and the administration in our building has just increased more than I can ever explain. Now, within the first two weeks of school we can identify students we know are going to struggle all year and start to work with them and try to get them some extra support."
The academy also involves a "working lunch," where students spend their lunch periods eating their meals while working on classwork with their teachers.
"The nice part about working lunch is they have teacher help right there at the ready," said Campbell.
After all that, if students are still compelled to drop out, they are required to view a video called "Your Next Bold Move." The video, which was produced five years ago, is actually first shown during freshman orientation, in order to encourage students to obtain their high school diplomas.
The video, explained Campbell, features two Beekmantown Central drop-outs who came back to school to tell their story on the hardships they faced without high school educations.
"They have great stories because they were exactly the type of students that tend to drop out - they were in trouble all the time, they missed school, didn't like it and thought it would be easier once they dropped out. They realized it wasn't."
So far, the overall structure of programs Beekmantown Central has created has helped deter students from dropping out, said Campbell, which was welcome news to fellow educators like New York State Regent James C. Dawson.
According to statistics provided during the meeting by Dawson, every 26 seconds, a student within the U.S. drops out of school. In all, more than 1.2 million students a year leave high school without a diploma, and in New York State alone, more than 25,000 students have dropped out of school since 2003.
"The reality is in New York State if you take 100 percent of an incoming freshman class in a given year and look at that same cohort four years later, only 67 percent of them have graduated," said Dawson. "That's not good ... If you can raise the horizon of thinking of your children in school, then they will do better."