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Programs Offer Strategies to Help At-Risk Students in Rural Areas

The needs of at-risk students should be first and foremost when developing partnerships intended to serve that population, advocates say.

That was one of the pieces of advice offered by Gary Chapman, executive vice president of the national nonprofit, Communities In Schools, during a recent webinar, "Utilizing the Village: Effective Reengagement and Recovery Programming in Rural Communities."

The 90-minute discussion was the final program in a three-session series on rural dropout prevention and recovery sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education with Jobs for the Future. All of the materials from the presentation, including an audio recording and transcript, are posted online.

The program featured two groups that are helping rural at-risk students, a CIS Performance Learning Center in Berrien County, Ga., and YouthBuild of Southeast Ohio.

CIS Performance Learning Centers
CIS works to provide students the wrap-around or support services needed to stay in school. It has about 200 programs nationally, and 48 percent of those are in rural areas.

Its Performance Learning Centers started in Georgia a decade ago and since have expanded to four other states: North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Each center has anywhere from 75 to 150 students in them who are over-age and under-credited.

Students learn half of their lessons online with the help of in-person instructors, and the other half through project-based learning. Constance Thomas, executive director of the program in Nashville, Ga., said it's critical to have a good site coordinator who gets to know students and what they need.

"But what needs to happen in each community past that plan is heart," she said. "And once you put the right people in place with the right plan, then that sense of hope comes back into a community."

YouthBuild
Jeff Fite is the director of job readiness and training at Sojourners Care Network and its YouthBuild of Southeast Ohio program.

Most of the funding for the country's 275 YouthBuild programs comes from the federal Department of Labor, and the one Fite oversees is the most rural of those. He serves about 50 16- to 24-year-olds during a two-year period, and most of them have dropped out and are lacking basic academic skills.

On school days, students do online learning with support from a certified teacher, and on work days they go to a live work site to build or rehab affordable housing units.

Fite said the program is effective in part because it creates different milestones and incentives for meeting those.

One of the program's former participants, Kera Spriggs, said what sets the program apart is the personal attention students receive, as well as the ability students have to go at their own pace.

After describing their programs, presenters talked further about specific issues that could help those trying to develop other recovery programs. They covered a range of topics, such as how to engage students who haven't always been successful in or liked school, and how to support students once they transition out of the program or into postsecondary education or a career.

For those interested in learning more, go to the department's School Turnaround Learning Community, which is a place where rural educators can find resources, share information, and try to solve common challenges.

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