Pre-K, extracurriculars seen as dropout preventives

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Band directors play an important role in dropout prevention, the leader of Booneville’s school district said Friday.
So, too, do football coaches, math team leaders and others who supervise various extracurricular activities.
Booneville Superintendent Todd English said during the CREATE Foundation’s seventh-annual Dropout Prevention Summit that such activities are important to his district’s strategy to keep students in school.
“We spend money on extra-curricular activities because they play a major role in our dropout prevention plans,” English said. “If you find things to keep students involved, you will graduate them. If you don’t keep them involved, the person selling Oxycontin will.”
The summit drew an audience of educators from the 17-county CREATE area to the Advanced Education Center. Speakers addressed early-childhood education, building character, dual-enrollment classes and the need for collaboration.
English said the district’s plan includes working with childcare providers, screening students in kindergarten to determine struggles and then addressing them, coordinating efforts between schools and making frequent contact with parents.
He said the impact of caring people is also important.
“Everyone knows of a coach who has arranged for someone in the community to keep the power on in someone’s house for the weekend,” he said. “Keeping the lights on caused someone in our community to graduate instead of dropping out to get a job.”
Meanwhile, Danny Spreitler, executive director of Monroe County’s Gilmore Foundation, spoke of the need to pay attention to students early.
Spreitler provided information about the Gilmore Early Learning Initiative, which works with childcare centers in the county and provides them with curricula and resources. This year, the foundation partnered with the Amory and Monroe County School Districts to offer pre-K classes on their campuses.
“We must care about our young children because in Mississippi we have tremendous issues that impact you as educators,” he said.
Staff from the program met with kindergarten teachers to determine what was needed to best prepare students for school. The program’s direct cost is $311.12 per child, Spreitler said.
Spreitler also spoke to the need for collaboration between all programs that serve 4-year-old children.
Representatives from Itawamba Community College outlined the school’s dual-enrollment options. It partners with school districts to offer a variety of classes in which students earn college credit while still enrolled in high school. Included are dual-credit courses which provide both high school and college credit.
While those classes have been thought to be for advanced students, ICC’s Sara Johnson said, the college wants to make them available to most students. Eligibility guidelines include completion of 12 core credits and a 2.5 grade-point average or a 16 ACT score.
ICC Vice President for Economic and Community Services James Williams provided an update on the college’s participation in Mississippi Works. The program is designed to help at-risk students or recent dropouts earn a high school diploma through dual-credit enrollment at a community college.
Williams said the program will match the students with a life-coach and will aim to teach them such skills as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and adaptability that will be needed for the workforce. It will offer several pathways, including manufacturing, office assistant, nursing assistant, culinary arts and welding.
However, ICC President David Cole said, the program needs partners from public school districts.
Another approach to reducing dropouts is to build character traits in students, said two leaders of Tupelo’s Integrity Time. The character education company provides a curriculum, plus games, songs and activities to help teach students positive behavior traits.
Weekly lessons can be taught in about 30 minutes, said Sara Berry, and include dinner discussions worksheets to guide conversations between students and parents. It is now being offered in 10 Northeast Mississippi school districts, as well as 18 states and six countries.
“It is my strong belief the dropout problem is not only an education problem, it is also a character problem,” Berry said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com