The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 12, 2012

See you Saturday

— Truants that can’t make it to class Monday through Friday may soon have an exciting option available to them in Nicholas County.

Show up on Saturdays instead.

While our tongue was placed firmly in cheek, sensing the scowls that students might be sporting at this news, we believe it is a remarkable step to combat the ever-growing problem of school dropouts and truancy in West Virginia.

These are serious issues.

Nicholas County will be using its recently awarded West Virginia Department of Education Innovation Zone and Drop-Out Prevention Grant to help reduce issues of absenteeism and truancy throughout the county by offering Saturday class to make up missed days.

They’re already making headway in tackling the problems.

Nicholas County Attendance Director Gene Collins states that the county has lowered its number of dropouts from 87 to 19 between 2007 and 2012.

That’s a great percentage, and very encouraging.

The plans for Saturday classes are not for merely study halls or a detention-like atmosphere.

Students — ages elementary through high school — will have the chance to make up assignments, work on ACT prep, participate in social service and community projects, or have counseling activities as needed.

The program is expected to operate on Saturdays during October, November, December, March, April and May, months identified as time periods when students more frequently accumulate unexcused absences that jeopardize their state-required attendance.

Hopes are that the West Virginia Department of Education will be able to meet with the Legislature during an interim session, but Nicholas County may have to wait until the regular legislative session to begin the program.

These are not just Nicholas County issues however.

More than one-third of West Virginia students, or about 108,000 children, had at least five unexcused absences during the last school year, according to figures provided last month by the state Department of Education. Of those students, 48,768 had 10 or more such absences.

A total of 34,547 students dropped out of West Virginia schools between 2000-2009. Dropouts are a real threat to West Virginia’s future, as about three-fourths of our nation’s prison inmates are high school dropouts.

“This is destroying our state slowly but surely, but certainly,” Circuit Judge Alan Moats told the House-Senate education subcommittee in September, adding that drug abuse plays a major role in this overall crisis, with dropouts turning to crime to support their addictions.

We’ll take the judge’s word on it. It’s likely he sees the evidence of it most every day.

We salute the educators in Nicholas County who have taken the initiative to not let their students fall to the wayside.

And we hope other county school systems take truancy and dropouts seriously enough to take proper action as well.