Empowerment Team helping prevent school dropouts

Published 10:55 pm Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Empowerment Team at Picayune Memorial High School is made up students who of would-be school dropouts and of students who want to prevent students from dropping out of school, and in some cases, the students are both.

Members of the team addressed the school board for the Picayune Municipal Separate School District on Tuesday, with most of them telling the board about how their involvement with team has prevented them from dropping out of school. The team is composed both of students who have always been successful in school and who desire to help other, less-fortunate, students also be successful, and of the less-fortunate students who have decided to stay in school rather than drop out. Those who were on the path to dropping out but decided not to are now helping other students decide to stay in school to complete their education.

One student, Bret Campo, told the board that while many of the board’s members know him from past disciplinary problems he is now a changed person and is striving to help other students like himself to turn their lives around.

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Donna Porter, a teacher at PMHS and one of the sponsors of the team told the board that Campo is on a board state Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds has put together to come up with ways to help keep more students from dropping out of school as part of Project Wipeout Dropouts. Linda Jopes is the other sponsor.

“I have been a behavior problem all my life. … I got expelled my junior year and moved out of my house,” Campo said. The student said he now plans to be the first person in his family to graduate from high school and plans to go to college.

“Our economy is not going to get any better unless we graduate students,” Campo said, referring to the nation’s current economic crisis.

He urged the school board to put more technology in classrooms, because today’s students “relate to technology.” Campo also urged the board to do everything it could to help the Empowerment Team because “some people don’t come to school because of what happens at home. … They need people to talk to.”

Several other students on the team also addressed the board, telling their personal stories. Most of them also were on the path to dropping out before mentors from the Empowerment Team stepped in.

However, Jessica Santillis said, “I wasn’t going to drop out, but I like helping people.”

She said that despite a heavy schedule of school and work, she still manages to mentor students who appear to be in danger of dropping out of high school, including one student who was wearing an “ankle bracelet” because of legal problems.

The school board also recognized the teachers of the year for the various school campuses and the District Teacher of the Year.

Melissa Burge Wall, who was Picayune Junior High’s Teacher of the Year is also district Teacher of the Year. Others recognized were Wendy Lee at Nicholson, Alisson Wheat at PMHS, Teresa Tretbar at Roseland Park Elementary, Rhenda Daughdrill at South Side Upper Elementary, Crystal Kendrick at South Side Lower Elementary and Cathy Henley at West Side Elementary.

District consultant Rucks Robinson explained to the board how its accountability program was working and said the district should be recognized as a top echelon school because of its test scores in three to four years. He also said the district is now a top echelon school for the efforts it is making to improve education.

Robinson said the district’s efforts on improving average daily attendance also are commendable, with the 0.69 of a percent the district has improved its attendance since last year adds up to an additional $96,000 in state funds. State funding for a district is based on its average daily attendance. The district’s attendance has improved form 94.24 percent last year to 94.93 percent this year, and he said that as a former school administrator he finds the improvement exceptional, since that is one of the hardest things to improve in school district.

In other matters, the board:

— Approved personnel matters.

— Approved consent items.

— Tabled two 16th section matters for more information and approved one.

— Approved purchasing lounge furniture for the library and to have the library repainted.

— Approved a memorandum of agreement with Miss. Action for Progress for the Head Start program.

— Approved donating two used security vehicles, a Crown Victoria and a Ford Explorer, to the City of Picayune, with the Explorer being contingent on the city needing it.

— Approved applying for an E2T2 competitive grant.

— Approved the Career and Technology Center application for a Redesigning Education for the 21st Century grant.

— Approved Gaits to Success Therapeutic Horsemanship program.

— Went into executive session on student discipline.