Written by Alex Garcia, San Fernado Valley Sun Contributing Writer | http://bit.ly/dugpu2
ALEX GARCIA / SFVS
Wednesday, 13 October 2010 -- San Fernando High School and Pacoima Middle School are among 12 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools taking part in a five-year, $11.3 million Federal High School Graduation Incentive Grant program to lower dropout rates and boost student recovery efforts.
Joining San Fernando and Pacoima are Belmont, Gardena, Fremont, Huntington Park and Dorsey high schools, and John Liechty, Peary, Bethune, Gage and Audubon middle schools.
The schools were selected because their dropout rates were all higher than the state dropout rate, using state data from the academic school years2004-05 to 2007-08. Other factors included 9th grade retention rates, and overall school attendance rates.
"In this district, we want every student to stay in school, and succeed academically," said Superintendent Ramon Cortines in a press release. "We also encourage dropouts to return and get the help or support they need to attend school, and excel."
San Fernando High had a five percent dropout rate in the 2007- 08 school year, according to data compiled by the California Department of Education (CDE). The data showed 167 students in grades 9-12, out of a total student population of 3,347, had dropped out.
The CDE defines a dropout as someone under the age of 18 who has neither enrolled in GED nor continuation school, or has not been suspended.
Latino students had the highest dropout rate at San Fernando, with 89 (or 53%) among the 2007-08 total.
But further CDE data, tracked during school years 2004-05 to 2007-08, revealed a 19.2 percent dropout rate for grades 9-12 at San Fernando. The rate was less than the LAUSD dropout average (26.4%), but higher than the state average (18.9%) during that same period.
The state doesn't track dropout rates for middle school.However, some estimates put the number of students who drop out of middle school in California at more than 10,000 in 2008.
Across California, 20 percent of students drop out of school. The majority of them are African American (34.7%), followed by Latinos (25.5%). Whites had a 12.2 percent dropout rate, and Asians had an 8.4 percent dropout rate.
The LAUSD anticipates serving at least 26,000 students over the five-year life of the grant. Some of the strategies implemented as part of the program will include a strong emphasis on the use of the District's My Data Tool, a computer system that generates information for counselors and can easily and readily identify students with risk factors that contribute to dropping out.
The grant will also fund additional counselor support at the schools with a specific focus on students who display early indicators of school failure. Identified students will have the opportunity to participate in a Summer Bridge Program and receive targeted academic and behavioral support as they make the transition to high school.
"This is a great opportunity for the school district to intervene early in a student's middle and high school career so that we can eliminate or reduce those barriers that affect students' ability to be college and career-ready," said Rene Gonzalez, assistant superintendent for Student Health and Human Services, in a press release.
The grant is a welcome addition to the district's dropout prevention efforts. According to the LAUSD Dropout Prevention Recovery Program, there are more than 20,000 students on its dropout lists.
Consequences of Dropping Out
Leaving school can be a major detriment for the rest of a person's life. According to the LAUSD Dropout Prevention Recovery Program, a dropout will earn $300,000 less than a high school graduate over a lifetime. And they'll make $1million less than a college graduate.
High school dropouts are also four times more likely than college graduates to be unemployed. And they are more likely to live in poverty and/or go to prison. They also tend to have poorer health, and a higher dependence on public assistance.
According to a study by the UC Santa Barbara California Dropout Research Project, these outcomes have a detrimental impact on the safety, and overall well-being of our cities. They also generate significant economic losses to the local economy, as well as to the state and the nation."
The study went on to say, "even if half of the LAUSD dropouts eventually complete high school, the remaining half will cost the Los Angeles community $2.1 billion over their lifetimes.Reducing the number of dropouts by half would generate $1 billion in economic benefits to the community. It would also result in 3,659 fewer murders and aggravated assaults each year".
Parents to feel pinch of school truancy
Truancies can sometimes be the prelude to a student dropping out. And beginning next year, parents of students who regularly are absent from school without an excuse will be held liable for their sons' or daughters' actions.
Starting January 1st, parents of chronically truant students could face a misdemeanor charge under a new state law. At a press conference held last week to make the announcement, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that schools would be required to track student absences, and contact the parents of students who miss more than 10 percent of the school year.
Parents will be offered counseling and other support to help them keep their children in school. If they still fail after many attempts at intervention, the parents could be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor under the new law and fined up to $2,000. The charges would be dropped if the student's attendance improves.
"The object of this law isn't to put people in jail," Villaraigosa said. "It's to wake people up to the services that are available and the responsibilities that they have in making sure that their kids are coming to school."
The law was crafted after a program that's been in place in San Francisco for the past four years. The "Chronic Truancy Reduction Initiative" has so far reached 2,000 parents and has resulted in a 33 percent increase in student attendance and 25 prosecutions, according to San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who sponsored the law and created the program.