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The challenge: Keeping kids in school

Susan Notes: Here's the subhead--The solution: Alternative schools that provide career skills, too. If this program is even half as good as this piece indicates, we should indeed be shouting Yahoos! of joy.

I wish the journalist had asked William what he thought of the book students were asked to read over the summer: The Secret Life of Bees.

An Oddity: The school has a uniform policy and the uniforms may be bought only at one vendor.

For the 2006-2007 school year, all students must have a minimum school wardrobe consisting of:

1 Dress Shirt
2 3 Short-Sleeve Polo Shirts
2 3 Long-Sleeve Shirts
1 Outer Wear Of Choice

All student shirts are to be navy blue or stone / beige. Pants and skirts must be black, navy, khaki, tan, or blue jeans. Shorts are not to be worn. Camouflage clothing is not permitted.

Please use the catalog to make your selections. The uniform items are only available at Awards 4 U (formerly Tallahassee Engraving and Awards), located at 1387 East Lafayette Street (850-878-7187). Your orders will be placed, paid for and picked up at Awards 4 U.

By Marci Elliott

William Armbrecht has found his place.

He's in an electrical training program at the Academy of Academics and Technology - and has the world in his hands.

"I can make good money, go anywhere I want, and always find a job," said the 18-year-old, who says he would have been a high-school dropout if it hadn't been for the academy.

"I can go into electronics - do all kinds of things, anywhere in the world, with what I'm learning here," he said, adding that he could go on to learn more to expand his skills and knowledge.

William is the kind of student whom teachers and school district administrators like to hear about: a success story.

He could have been another number in the annual statistics that Ruth Hobbs' office collects in the Leon County School District - the kind of numbers Hobbs and other officials don't like to see.

Although Leon County Schools has one of the lowest dropout rates in the state at 1.9 percent (2004-05, the most recent data available), officials would like to see it at zero - as would those at other school districts in the state and the nation.
Attracting students

One factor that keeps Leon County's dropout rate low is a system of dropout alternatives the district has in place, said Hobbs, executive director of intervention services.

"They're all highly recommended. All meet certain needs, and they're different from each other," she said. "Students know when they find the one that's right for them."

Hobbs cited three schools with dropout-prevention programs:

Alternative Learning Center, formerly known as the Second Chance School - for students who may have had discipline issues, gone through the juvenile justice system or been in trouble with the law.

SAIL - the School for Applied Individual Learning, for students with very high potential who can't or don't perform well in a traditional learning environment.

Academy of Academics and Technology - a fairly new concept that directs potential dropouts back on track toward a career path and gives them opportunities to attain some level of accomplishment and ties to the job market.

All three schools offer the options of a high-school diploma, a General Education Diploma or both.

William Armbrecht has chosen the path toward both - a regular diploma and a GED.

"I'm in the 11th grade now and will graduate on time next year," he said. "I failed the eighth grade, but this school helped get me back on track."

Inez Henry, principal of the Academy of Academics and Technology, said the Leon County School District is made up of small learning communities.

The academics and technology academy, for example, is behind the district's Lively Technical Center, where students can learn a variety of vocational and technical skills leading directly to jobs in the work force. It's where William goes to an electrical lab to learn hands-on skills.

"We emphasize working with students on dropout prevention," Henry said. "Our classes are very small. The kids are not successful in traditional schools for a number of reasons. Although our school is small, we still are able to offer many choices in curriculum and opportunities. When our students complete school and the training they've chosen, they are very employable in the job market."
Reducing dropouts

Students quit school before graduation for as many reasons as there are dropouts, says the National Education Association, the nationwide teachers' organization.

Among the reasons are boredom with school, bad grades, lack of reading skills, family problems, substance abuse, depression, lack of motivation and dozens of others.

The NEA has just announced 12 steps it's adopted to take action on dropout prevention.

Topping the list are mandated high-school graduation or GED attainment by age 21; graduation centers for students 19-21 years old; expansion of graduation options, such as career and technical programs similar to those in Leon County; and increases in career education and work-force readiness programs.

The Leon County School Board and district officials want to get that 1.9 percent dropout rate down to zero.

"We see the dropout problem as a critical one," board chairman Fred Varn said. "We may have a low dropout rate compared to other school districts, but we'd still like to see it completely eliminated."

480 N. Appleyard Drive, Tallahassee, FL 32304

Principal Inez Henry

Phone (850) 487-7667

Alternative Learning Center

860 Blountstown Highway, Tallahassee, FL 32304

Principal Tom Dunn

Phone (850) 488-2087

SAIL (School for Applied Individual Learning)

725 N. Macomb St., Tallahassee, FL 32308

Principal Rosanne Wood

Phone (850) 488-2468

Executive Director, Intervention Services Ruth Hobbs

Leon County Schools

Phone (850) 487-7306

Contact education reporter Marci Elliott at (850) 599-2382 or rnelliott@tallahassee.com.

— Marci Elliott
Tallahassee Democrat


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