Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


October 9, 2012

Innovation zone — McDowell dropout rate alarming

— In the past four years, more than 234 students have dropped out of school in McDowell County for a myriad of reasons, including teen pregnancy, repeated truancy, course failures and behavior and discipline issues. Another 49 students were expelled from school last year alone with 24 of the expulsions for substance abuse. These statistics are alarming, and require corrective action.

The goods news to report is that such corrective action is underway, and has been for several months now as part of the Reconnecting McDowell campaign, a multi-year public-private rescue plan for the still struggling school system. It was announced just last week that McDowell County has been selected to take part in the state Board of Education’s Dropout Prevention Innovation Zones for the 2012-2013 school year.

 The three-year $100,000 continuation grant will help provide a social worker with salary, benefits and necessary resources at River View High School in Bradshaw. A social worker is already stationed at Mount View High School in Welch.

The social worker will help students identify what is holding them back from graduating, and will work with the students and their families to explore ways to overcome those obstacles. The goal of the new initiative is to decrease the county’s dropout rate by 5 percent by 2015. The school system is partnering in the innovation zone with the West Virginia University Extension Service, the McDowell County Commission, Mountain Heart Community Services Inc., Save the Children and McDowell County FACES.

 “We have students who have social issues that need help,” McDowell County School Superintendent Nelson Spencer said last week. “Our Mount View program was very successful. It’s paramount we keep our students involved in school. Without education their opportunities are very limited. These students need their high school diplomas to go out and get jobs or go pursue a higher education. All studies show opportunities are not as great for students who do not finish high school.”

The social worker will meet with students at River View on an individual basis while also working to bridge the gap between school and home, according to assistant School Superintendent Carolyn Falin.

“This is so students will be successful later in life,” Falin said. “Without a GED or diploma your chances of finding gainful employment are slim.”

We agree. Keeping a student in school is critical to his or her future success in life. Once a student becomes truant, he or she is more likely to drop out of school, possibly leading them on the path to a life of poverty, or even crime.

The public benefits when students are encouraged to stay in school and earn their high school diplomas or GEDs. Each dropout who becomes chronically unemployed often requires public assistance or, even worse, becomes another case for the judicial system to handle. That represents a great expense for the public.

A student with a high school diploma is much more likely to avoid falling into a cycle of poverty and crime. That’s why we must strive to keep kids in school. And that’s why the new dropout innovation zone in McDowell County is so critical.


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