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Grant aims to curb dropouts

EDITOR'S NOTE: The April 19 story "Grant aims to curb dropouts" said that Sacajawea Middle School student Brent Montgomery had dropped out of school in January. However, the student is still enrolled at Sacajawea, said district spokeswoman Diane Turner. By law, students cannot drop out of school until age 16, Turner said. The Mirror regrets the error.

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Jeanette Bullock, director of equity and achievement for Federal Way Public Schools, said that the situation of students dropping out of school is turning itself into a national epidemic.

“This is a national crisis and it’s time for districts to step up and offer services,” Bullock said.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has responded to this crisis by providing districts around the state a new grant called Building Bridges. The grant was able to award a total of $2 million across the state for the sole purpose of creating successful practices that will keep students in school until they graduate, according to a Federal Way School District press release.

The Building Bridges grant was offered through an open invitation for any district around the state that wished to apply.

Out of 35 applicants, the OSPI was only able to award 15 districts, and Federal Way was one of them.

The Federal Way district received a Building Bridge grant worth $257,000 from OSPI.

Beginning in the fall 2008, one of the main initiatives will be to hire monitors that work daily with families and students.

“This will be a check and connect program that will provide students what they need to get them to school,” Bullock said. “For example, a monitor would call the home and if the student has an attendance problem, he/she will work to provide what the student needs to get to school.”

Bullock said that many times students choose to drop out of school because of an attendance problem, or because they need to work and may be living in poverty. Other times, some students might be without a place to live. She said that statistics vary across the state and the country.

Some students across the district said that one of the main triggers that cause students to drop out, particularly in Federal Way, is related to the presence of drugs in the city.

“Most of the time is during sixth grade and middle school where it starts,” said Michael Wheatherbee, who attends Green River Community College.

His friend Angelo Lawrence, a student at Federal Way High School, agreed and said a lot of teachers are aware of the problem.

Dropouts are more likely than graduates to get pregnant or get in trouble with the law, abuse drugs and alcohol, and suffer from mental health issues, according to the school district’s press release on the grant.

Federal Way Public Schools will work directly with other local groups like Highline Community College, the Multi-Service Center, Communities in Schools of Federal Way, and the Internet Academy to provide individual needs for every dropout student — whether it is shelter, continuing education or general support.

Bullock said that there are dropout students from every social level, and that it’s not something seen only among those who come from low-income families.

“When you look at it nationally, it’s not just those students. Those from higher economic levels tend to drop out because they want more of a variety and many feel school is not offering what they want. In those cases we connect them with Highline Community College,” she said, giving an example.

According to Bullock, there’s only a 3.9 percent dropout rate across the Federal Way School District, but situations like Montgomery’s are not uncommon.

With the support of the Building Bridges Grant, the district intends to prevent these cases from repeating and increasing every year.

“During the 2006-2007 school year, the student dropout rate increased across the state and the nation,” Bullock said. “The concern now is what we can do to bring them back and help them become successful.”

Contact Aileen Charleston: acharleston@fedwaymirror.com.

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