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Keeping kids in school is focus of new program

Kansas

In comparison to the national average--70 percent--Kansas' 89 percent high school graduation rate might seem cause for celebration.

The graduation rate does not, however, tell us the number of students who start the ninth grade, but don't finish, or the number of students who drop out, said Elaine Johannes, Kansas State University Research and Extension youth development specialist.

In Kansas, during the 2007-08 school year, more than 3,600 students dropped out of school, said Johannes, who is working with a state task force representing public and private entities to encourage would-be dropouts to opt for a new Kansas DropINs program.

"Dropping out of school is a loss for a child and his or her community," she said. "Drop-outs typically have fewer employment opportunities and lesser earning power, and also can be more likely to live in poverty, face increased health risks, and choose risky behaviors, including drug and alcohol use--and crime."

Dropout rates may seem higher in more densely populated urban areas, yet rural areas are not immune, Johannes said.

Several factors may be involved, she said. With the focus on advancement and successfully complying with national testing standards, basic life skills and nurturing the ability to adapt to cultural and societal changes are being missed.

Some students also are overlooked, and then encouraged to leave school, Johannes said.

Such is the case for one Central Kansas high school student whose frustrations in the classroom were later attributed to undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

The Kansas DropINs program is based on the premise that needs vary--there isn't a one-size-fits-all cure--and that youth should be involved in resolving issues that lead to dropping out of school, she said.

Collaborating agencies have formed a task force and are scheduling eight summit meetings around the state this fall to encourage conversation about local issues that diminish educational opportunities and success rates, Johannes said.

The goal is to unite state and community agencies in a common goal--education, and the meetings are expected to bring a diverse group together for discussion, she said.

School counselors, probation officers, elected officials and business leaders are among those being encouraged to attend, and teen council members will help facilitate discussions with youth from across Kansas.

The Kansas DropINs program is part of a national initiative from America's Promise Alliance, which is headed by former U.S. Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell.

The effort centers around five promises to youth:

--Caring adults/role models;

--Safe places and constructive use of time;

--A healthy start and healthy development;

--Effective education for marketable skills, and

--Lifelong learning.

Various state agencies, including K-State Research and Extension, which has offices in every county and a history of building community collaborations, are working together to involve businesses, communities and faith-based organizations to provide what Johannes calls "healthy places for youth."

"Children need to see a role for themselves, learn about opportunities and build skills that will help them succeed in life," Johannes said.

More information on the Kansas DropINs program is available at www.kansasdropins.org and at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices.



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