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Washington Co. school dropout rate declines

September 26, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The dropout rate in Washington County Public Schools has declined steadily over the last decade.

In 2000, 5.55 percent, or 339 seniors, dropped out of high school, according to statistics provided by the school system. That number fell to 110, or 1.56 percent, during the 2008-09 academic year.

The state dropout average last year was 2.6 percent.

"We're so excited to help kids stay in school," said Carol Costello, the school system's supervisor of alternative programs and student services. "When they graduate, they just have a brighter future."

Costello said fewer dropouts resulted in more graduations.

Last year, 91.5 percent, or 1,546 of the seniors who attended Washington County Public Schools, graduated, according to school system documents. In 2000, the graduation rate was 78.3 percent, or 1,126 students.

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Costello said the discrepancy between the 1.56 percent dropout rate and the 91.5 percent graduation rate could be attributed, in part, to students who transferred to another school system during their senior year.

She said intervention specialists at the middle- and high-school levels were responsible for a lot of the success.

Intervention specialists were hired by the school system primarily over the last decade with the help of a state grant. Their job is to help at-risk students, or those who show signs of dropping out.

Costello said some of the at-risk signs include truancy and poor academic performance.

Intervention specialists typically have experience in social work, Costello said. It is not a requirement that they hold a college degree, but many of them do.

Heather Dixon and Amy Warrenfeltz said they worked with children in the private sector before they became intervention specialists at South Hagerstown High School.

Dixon said many of the children she helped in the private sector already were in trouble. She said she became an intervention specialist because she would be able to reach students sooner.

"I thought this would be a preventive approach," said Dixon, who works with students in grades 10 through 12. "It's definitely one of those jobs that has rewards. We all feel passionate about what we do."

Dixon and Warrenfeltz said they are alerted to at-risk children by teachers, guidance counselors and assistant principals. The two commonly handle about 150 formal cases per year.

Warrenfeltz, who works with ninth-grade students, said intervention specialists make telephone calls, visit homes, arrange family meetings and promote extracurricular activities to help decrease the dropout rate.

In some cases, they even walk students to class.

Warrenfeltz said intervention specialists work with students until their grades improve, then "watch from a distance" to ensure things stay on course.

"We try to get to everyone we can," she said. "We don't say no to anyone."

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