Saturday, September 15, 2012


By Barbara Jones Staff Writer, LA Daily News |

East Valley High School PSA Counselor Megan Brown, left, talks with truant student Allison Bustamante and her family during a Sept. 14, 2012 home visit as part of LAUSD's Student Recovery Day. (Andy Holzman/Daily News Staff Photographer)

9/14/2012 04:40:21 PM PDT  ::  Maria and Ponciano Ramos Jr. had done everything they could think of to persuade their 16-year-old daughter to go to class at nearby East Valley High.

They cajoled. They threatened. They punished.

Finally, on Friday, they invited attendance counselor Megan Brown into their North Hollywood home, where she quietly began her pitch.

"We want you to graduate from high school, and there are different options we can offer to help you," Brown told Allison Bustamante, a shy teen who arrived from the Philippines two years ago.

During the next 20 minutes, Brown outlined the alternatives -- continuation high school or independent study, perhaps -- that could help Allison get back on track. But Brown also warned she'd be forced to call in school police or refer the girl to the court system if she didn't return to school.

East Valley High School PSA Counselor Megan Brown talks with a truant student during a home visit on Sept. 14, 2012, as part of LAUSD's Student Recovery Day. (Andy Holzman/Daily News Staff Photographer)

"There are people who care about you, and we want to find the best situation for you. But it has to come from you," Brown said, exacting a promise from Allison to meet with her next week to come up with an action plan.

On Friday, Brown joined 760 other counselors and community volunteers during Los Angeles Unified's fourth annual Student Recovery Day. Throughout the morning, they made phone calls and knocked on the doors of thousands of dropouts and chronic truants in a concerted effort to get them back in school.

With a graduation rate of about 62 percent, 15 points below the statewide average, LAUSD has launched a number of dropout prevention and intervention initiatives. Officials estimate that nearly 3,300 students have found their way back onto the district's rolls since the first Student Recovery Day in 2009.

Among their successes is Ruben Hernandes, who returned to East Valley a couple of weeks ago following a single persuasive phone call from Brown.

"I didn't think I was the type for school," said Ruben, 18, who dropped out last year after failing every class.

By the time he returned to school, classes were already well underway. He's hustling to make up the work and has passing grades in every class, including an A in English.

He plans to transfer next semester to the Alternative Education and Work Center, a credit-recovery program that will help expedite his quest for his diploma.

"I want my sister and two younger brothers to see I can do it," Ruben said.

East Valley was one of six high schools tapped for Student Recovery Day efforts because of the high number of students on their dropout lists.

Teams also fanned out in the neighborhoods around Reseda High, aided by volunteers from City Year, a nonprofit agency that provides mentors and tutors for kids at risk of dropping out.

Volunteer Farah Noor and her 16-member team visited businesses and restaurants around campus, waylaying youngsters and letting them know they were legally required to be in school until they're 18 or graduate from high school.

"We had a really, really great day," Noor said. "We got about two to three students each and brought them back to Reseda."

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