Miss. moves forward with development of dropout prevention plan

Published 6:53 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2006

A notice to all teens thinking about dropping out of school: Mississippi is developing a plan to keep you in the classroom.

About 25 members of a state dropout prevention advisory committee met Monday to discuss various strategies aimed at reducing Mississippi’s 35 percent dropout rate.

The ideas ranged from pizza parties as rewards for school attendance to billboards that read: “So you dislike school? How are you going to dislike jail?”

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There also were discussions about local school districts implementing their own programs and a regular evaluation of the programs’ effectiveness.

The recommendations that emerged Monday will be presented to a 70-member task force that meets Nov. 1 to officially kickoff Mississippi’s dropout prevention campaign, said J. Martez Hill, deputy state superintendent.

The advisory committee included students and representatives from the corporate and educational communities. Several lawmakers, including Senate Education Chairman Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, and Senate Universities and Colleges Chairwoman Alice Harden, D-Jackson, are members of the advisory panel but didn’t attend Monday’s meeting.

The state Department of Education has asked lawmakers to increase its budget in fiscal year 2008 to fund various programs related to dropout prevention, Hill said.

Jason Camp, 18, a graduate of Bruce High School, said it’s important that all options for at-risk students are advertised to them. Camp said often school counselors fail to tell students about programs, including online courses, which may help students who hold down jobs while pursuing their diploma.

Camp said some of his friends dropped out of school as early as the ninth grade just to get a job. He said most ended up with low-paying employment at factories or lumber yards.

“If there was some way to promote every program, that would be something that would be very beneficial. Something to let the students know this is out there for you,” he said.

State Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds said last month that he hopes to raise $1 million for a public awareness campaign to spotlight the dropout rate.

Lee James, an instructor at Choctaw County High School, said his district’s dropout rate is 22 percent, and its prevention plan is basically still being developed and will go hand-in-hand with the state program.

James said teachers already have numerous responsibilities and demands, but “we as educators are going to have to step up and devote the time if we’re going to make a difference in dropout prevention.”

Mississippi is working with the National Dropout Prevention Center based at Clemson University to formulate the state program, which will include school and community collaborations, early childhood education, family engagement and mentoring and tutoring services.