CHRIS KIEFFER: Reaching out to high school dropouts is important mission

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

A group of Tupelo School employees, local ministers and community members has formed a new organization with a goal to help at-risk students in a variety of ways.
Project T.E.A.M. is currently working with 36 seniors at Tupelo High School who are in danger of not graduating for one reason or another. Mentors were matched with the students to give them an extra push – perhaps shepherding them through their senior project or tutoring them in a subject area test or class that they must pass to be able to walk across the stage.
The organization is operating independently of the school district. Its members are volunteering their time outside of work.
As Project T.E.A.M. develops, it will expand the groups of students it tries to aid. One of its noteworthy ideas is a plan to find students who have recently dropped out of school and encourage them to return.
Many programs focus on dropout prevention, an important element in an area of the state where more than 15 percent of students drop out of school each year. Not as much is done to recover those who have already left school early.
Dropouts are often forgotten. Some of them will pursue a G.E.D. and further their education, but many won’t. Those who don’t get the G.E.D. find themselves in a world of limited opportunities. On average, they earn $10,000 per year less than classmates with just a high school diploma. One decision made in their teenage years will set them on a course that will make the rest of their lives much more difficult.
Fred Hill, assistant superintendent of Tupelo Schools and a member of Project T.E.A.M., acknowledges that convincing students who have recently dropped out to return to school will not be easy. Many youths will resist those efforts.
It will require considering other possibilities, such as offering home schooling to some individuals. Hill said the goal is to help those students get a diploma or at least a GED, but the emphasis will be on a diploma. That might require thinking outside the box.
“We have to develop educational opportunities for the students that the current educational environment did not work for,” Hill said.
Any efforts to tap the potential of the young boys and girls who had already left the school system are both heartwarming and important to the community.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.