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South seeks key to dropout dilemma

November 14, 1997

South seeks key to dropout dilemma

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

South Hagerstown High School's dropout rate of 7.2 percent for the 1996-97 school year can be attributed to a number of factors, ranging from a changing culture that puts less value on education, to a high number of at-risk youngsters at the school, officials said.

Of 750 students at South High last year, about 52 dropped out, giving it the highest dropout rate of the county's seven high schools.

The county's overall dropout rate was 5.1 percent, the highest in more than a decade, officials said.

Bud Moore, a counselor at South High, said a lot of things have changed since the days when he was a student teacher at the school in 1969.

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At that time, students had a lot of interest in going to college and there was a general atmosphere in the school that education was valued.

Now he's finding the priority among many students is having a place to "hang out."

"What does that get them? It gets them nothing. It's very disheartening," said Moore.

Others agree, saying it's not the building, it's not the teachers, it's changing lifestyles.

One trend educators said they have noticed is decreasing interest in outside organizations that give kids a sense of connection to the community.

School officials will meet to discuss how to cut the dropout rate, and one of the ideas being considered is setting up after-school programs, such as an in-house scouting club or recreation programs.

Principal Richard Martin said a possibility is a recreation/study hall where students could have a pick-up game of basketball or visit with a tutor to help them with homework.

"We need to rebuild a school community here. That's what's been lost," said Moore.

Another factor is that a large number of South High students come from low-income families in which education is not valued, officials said.

John Schnebly, member of an ad hoc educational committee at the school, said there have always been those students at South High, but the situation has been exacerbated in recent years by the way school officials have selectively drawn population boundaries that keep richer kids out of the school's district.

"This is really a fundamental issue of how are you going to treat urban schools," said Schnebly, who warned against "ghetto-izing the school."

"It's a delicate balancing act and if you don't pay attention to it, it can get out of hand," said Schnebly, member of Citizens for Revitalization of Educational Benefits at South End Schools (REBS).

South High officials have worked to reduce the dropout rate through programs such as Maryland Tommorrow, a state-funded initiative that provides a teacher to work with at-risk youngsters on homework, attendance and other areas.

Martin said teachers should start working with at-risk students much earlier, giving them one-on-one assistance in elementary school when academic problems are first identified.

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