by: Laurie Johnson, July 28, 2006 5:07:00 am
It's the time of year when most high school students are shopping for new school clothes, checking supply lists and squeezing in those last few days of lazy, summer entertainment. HISD Deputy Press Secretary Adriana Villareal says for hundreds of students, the next two weeks will mark a decision to not return to school.
"It's really hard to predict right now how many students we will actually need to go look for even. The reason that we're putting out the message now is because the first day of school is approaching, it's August 14th, it's still not here yet. And what we've seen in the past is that most students drop out by not coming back to school the following year."
In August of 2004, HISD sent volunteers on a door-to-door campaign in eight neighborhoods, persuading dropout students to come back to school. Last year the number of volunteers and neighborhoods doubled. More than 1,000 people combed 16 communities, looking for dropouts. This year, they're expanding the effort again. The district is recruiting 2,000 volunteers to send into 20 neighborhoods. Michelle Pola is the executive director of Houston A+ Challenge, a non-profit organization which promotes high school reform. She says last year more than 700 students returned to school as a result of the door-to-door campaign.
"We had heard loud and clear from students that one of the reasons they left school was that it wasn't relevant, that people didn't know who they were and personalization and relationships are a critical item for young adults. So that this was one of the ways to show students that the city of Houston did in fact care about them and that did in fact see education as a priority for them."
About 200 former dropouts have since graduated from high school, and several hundred more are still enrolled. Villareal says dropouts usually aren't traditional students and the district had to make changes to accomodate their needs.
"We understand that nine to four p.m., which is a regular school day, doesn't work for everybody. We understand that some need extra tutoring, that some need different types of courses to get them engaged, that they need a more personalized education and that's something that our teachers are so dedicated to and our principals have really made a huge change in in our schools. We're trying to really reform the high school experience to match what kids today have to deal with."
Houston is the first city to try this door-to-door approach. Districts from around the country are watching the program to guage its success and have contacted HISD about trying the method in other inner city districts. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.