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Rural Educators Talk Strategies for Dropout Prevention

One out of every four rural high school students won't graduate from high school. Some rural communities are finding innovative ways to prevent dropouts.

The U.S. Department of Education and Jobs for the Future hosted a webinar Thursday on dropout prevention in rural areas, "Utilizing the Village: Building Community Support for Dropout Prevention and Recovery Work in Rural Communities."

The first presenters, educators from a Texas district near the Mexican border, talked about an innovative academy they created to address the problem, and the second presenter discussed ways to mobilize community support.

The first dropout-prevention strategy discussed during the 1 ½ hour session came from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, a tri-city district that's 99 percent Hispanic and majority low-income in Pharr, Texas.

The 32,000-student district has created a College, Career, and Technology Academy that's being replicated across the state. The stand-alone school accepts 18- to 26-year-old students who need five or less credits to graduate and/or need to pass the state's exit exam.

"We're not just about a high school diploma," said Principal Linda Carrillo. "We're really about getting kids college ready, college connected, and college complete."

They do that in a number of ways, including transporting student to a nearby community college and providing a transition counselor who serves students while they're in college.

The academy has a flexible school day and provides child care for its students' children. It also has a counselor and social worker who help students deal with social and emotional issues.

The district mounted a campaign, "You didn't graduate from high school? Start college today!" to encourage dropouts to earn their GED while taking dual enrollment courses at the academy. The entire community got behind the effort, knocking on dropouts' doors to let them know they could go back to school.

The district had nearly 500 dropouts a year in 2005-06, but that number had fallen to 42 in 2010-11. The academy has graduated almost 900 students.

Some participants questioned how the academy was funded. They said they use federal Title 1 money and grants as well as state per-pupil dollars.

The webinar was the first of three in a Rural Webinar series, with another focused on early intervention strategies scheduled for this fall, and the final one covering recovery programming in spring 2013. A recording and written transcript will be posted online within the next few days, and the resources available to participants already are online.

We'll post next week about the second half of the session, which included strategies and tips for building community will to support achievement for all youth.

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