A Dropout’s Lessons Learned at Indiana High School

By Sara Rising

INDIANA –In 1990, Kelly Davies was 15 and attending Ford City High School in Armstrong County. She also was pregnant.

During the first four months of her pregnancy, she experienced morning sickness. She began missing so much school that administrators were getting angry with her, she said. But they wouldn’t help her work at home or help her stay in school.

Now, she is 32, employed as a cook at Spaghetti Benders in Indiana and living in Indiana with her daughter, Alicia, 16, and her newborn, Anna Bell.

And she still faces the effects of quitting high school, said Davies in an Oct. 17 interview at the restaurant.

“Not finishing high school prevented me from going to college and creates job limitations today,” she Because she quit when she was 15, Davies said, she had to wait until she was 18 to take her general educational development (GED) test. That left her with a newborn and no proof of education.

Davies said that she wishes the school had been more supportive.

“The schools should be helpful to kids in that situation, because that’s what they are — kids,” said Davies.

Today, 17 years later, Indiana Senior High School officials are taking steps to help students at risk of dropping out. One step is a new program that began in September. Enrollment is about 15 students. And their classroom is part of a renovation project at the high school.Indiana High School is not immune from a national dropout problem, but it is beating the odds.

“Approximately four of every 100 students who were enrolled in high school in October 2004 left school before October 2005 without completing a high school program,” said a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. The center is within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

At Indiana High School, the dropout rate has declined. Of 940 students enrolled in 1997-1998, 38 dropped out, a 4 percent rate, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Web site.

In 2005-2006, of 831 enrolled students, 24 dropped out, a 2.9 percent rate.

Thus, about three of 100 students dropped out of IHS in 2005-2006, compared to the national dropout rate of four of 100 students in 2005.

Deborah Clawson has been superintendent of Indiana Area School District for a year. In her first year on the job, 2006-2007, 22 students dropped out, Clawson said in an Oct. 2 interview at her daughter’s home on Washington Street in Indiana Borough. That number was two fewer than the 24 dropouts reported for 2005-2006 on the state education department’s Web site.

“It may not be high nationally,” Clawson said. “But we think that’s a lot of kids.”

Each year, she said, school officials interview dropouts when they decide to leave. The interviews show that about 75 percent of students who drop out do so because they’re failing.

When President George Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, the federal law required schools to graduate 95 percent of enrolled students, Clawson wrote in an Oct. 9 email. Recently, the requirement dropped to 80 percent because many districts could not achieve the higher standard. Federal sanctions are applied to schools that fail to meet NCLB standards.

“We don’t face that,” said Clawson. “But we still don’t want to lose 20 kids a year.”

Clawson said the local school board recently approved a new program called the Senior High Alternative Program. It began the week of Sept. 24.

The program targets students who teachers and administrators predict may quit school, said Clawson. Enrollment is about 15 students. The program’s classroom is part of the ongoing about $5 million renovation at IHS.

“Students can be placed in it if there’s some sort of discipline problem,” said Clawson. “But we are also recruiting students if we see a potential problem.”

The program will replace the student’s regular classes with a curriculum based at their academic level, Clawson said. But the effort needs to start sooner, she added.

“Drop-out prevention has to begin at the elementary level, because many students who eventually drop out have academic difficulty,” wrote Clawson. “Being successful in academics begins in the early grades.”

As for Davies, she plans to encourage her daughters to stay in school.

“If I knew then what I know now, I would have fought to stay in,” Davies said. “I left out of anger towards the school. But in the end I only hurt myself.”


Sidebar: For more information

To find out more about how to prevent high school dropouts, contact these sources:

Focus Adolescent Services
P.O. Box 4514
Salisbury, MD 21803
Phone: 410-341-4216
Web: www.focusas.com

American Youth Policy Forum
1836 Jefferson Place NW
Washington DC 20036-2505
Phone: 202-775-9731
Email: aypf@aypf.org
Web: www.aypf.org


Sidebar: For more information

To find out more on high school dropouts, contact these sources:

Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg , PA  17126
Phone: 717-783-6788
Web: www.pdeinfo.state.pa.us

National Center for Education Statistics
1990 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
phone 202-502-7300
Web: nces.ed.gov

Indiana Area School District Board
501 East Pike
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: 724-463-8713
Meets 7 p.m., second and fourth Monday each month

Deborah M. Clawson,
501 East Pike
Indiana, PA 15701
Phone: 724-463-8713
Email: dclawson@iasd.cc

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