Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 6, 2006
Schools, province strive to keep kids from dropping out
Despite booming economy, more students are finishing their Grade 12
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Kyle Blayone almost fell through the cracks as he made his way through the Catholic school system. Angry, unmotivated and frustrated, the lad attempted to drop out in Grades 9, 10 and 11.
But thanks to a program aimed at those likely to drop out of high school, the 17-year-old is now just three months away from completing his high school diploma requirements at St. Joseph's High School.
Despite the high job rate and high wages in Alberta, statistics show more students are deciding to complete their high school - with a little help. "Students are recognizing the value of a high school diploma more," said Alberta Education spokesperson Shawna Cass. "We are making progress but we would like to make more progress faster."
Alberta's completion rates have been steadily increasing with 70.4 per cent of students completing their high school within three years of starting Grade 10 and 77.4 per cent of students completing it within five years.
Edmonton Catholic Schools' high school completion rate has increased more than originally projected. Between 1999 and 2005 the district's three-year high school completion rate increased from 61.8 per cent to 68.5 per cent.
The district's five-year completion rate jumped 69.4 percent to 76.3 percent during the same period, said Edmonton Catholic spokesperson Andrew Herklotz.
This is almost three per cent above the projected rate and perhaps as high it has ever been for Edmonton Catholic. "If I went back to 1995-97, the three-year completion rate was only 55.2 per cent," Herklotz noted.
Edmonton Catholic is projecting an additional three per cent increase in its high school completion rate in the next year. "We always shoot high but it could be a bit high (considering) the way the economy in the province is right now. Students know there is money to be made out there."
What is being done right? In 2000-01 Alberta Education introduced the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) a program whose goal is to improve student learning and performance by fostering initiatives that reflect the needs of each school district.
AISI provides $68 million targeted funding annually to school authorities for specific local projects. Initially allocated for three years, funding has been extended until 2006.
As with most school districts throughout the province, Edmonton Catholic has used a significant portion of the AISI funding to improve high school completion rates. For instance, each Edmonton Catholic high school has an AISI representative, with Herklotz been the district's project leader.
"Through our AISI representatives we identify students that need help and we have strategies and practices that we put in place with high school completion in mind," Herklotz explained.
"Once we have identified these students we meet with them and we always keep in mind what's required in terms of their course scheduling and we mentor them through."
Those who drop out are called and told what is required to complete their high school, he said. "The students like support; they like when people let them know. A lot of students don't realize all they are missing is one credit, one phys ed class, and they didn't realize that they were so close to graduation."
Students most likely to drop out are those with behavioural or substance abuse problems or facing family breakdowns.
In most cases, "the very first and best strategy would be relationship building with students" likely to drop out, Herklotz said. "You build a relationship with these students and we make contact and we become a significant other so they have somebody to go to when they need help. It's just another support in place and we identify students that need these supports."
Helping Grade 9s
Recently Edmonton Catholic expended its AISI program to the junior high level.
"Now the AISI representatives are reaching down to the Grade 9s and identifying students and helping the Grade 9s with their transition to high school," Herklotz said. "In fact it is almost like walking them over to the high school to help them register and transition into high school."
St. Joseph's High teacher and AISI representative Cathy Woroschuck said the AISI project has made all the difference. "We are working directly with students (who may have trouble completing their high school)," she said. "We do it one student at a time."
Woroschuck said everyone at St. Joseph's, including teacher advisors, administration and support staff, helps her in her delicate task of trying to keep students from dropping out.
Some teacher advisors take some students under their wing without Woroschuck's intervention. But she is never idle. She personally touches anywhere from 80 to 140 students a year. None of her charges has yet dropped out.
Every student who leaves gets an "exit interview" with the reasons for his/her departure. If they say they are leaving St. Joseph's to go to O'Leary High, for example, Woroschuck would phone O'Leary to see if the student has registered. If not, she would phone the student to find out about his plans and offer him some options.
"We don't baby them but we work hard to ensure their success," she said.
"If they don't finish (their high school) in three years, they can finish in four or five years. We work for the students."
Sometimes St. Joseph's send students who haven't completed their high school to NAIT, provided they meet the subject requirements for their chosen trade.
Kyle said if it weren't for Woroschuck and the rest of the teachers at St. Joe's, he would have dropped out long time ago.
"I didn't have any use for school, I didn't think it was worthwhile but the teachers made me realize I would be wasting my life if I didn't finish my high school," he said.
"The teachers work side by side with you and help you in every way possible."
In September Kyle plans to enroll in the forensic sciences program of Grant MacEwan College. "I got to know Kyle and his mother very well over the past three years," Woroschuck said.
Edmonton Catholic also helps students complete their high school through its Fresh Start program, which has an average enrollment of 725 per year in seven outreaches across the city.