The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 12, 2013

Solutions for Raleigh dropout rates sought at public forum

BECKLEY — “Do we have less expectation of students in poverty than other students and, if so, does that impact education?” state student success advocate coordinator Shelly DeBerry asked Thursday at a Dropout Prevention Community Forum at Crab Orchard Baptist Church.

Miller Hall, director of secondary education, said, “I think we do sometimes feel sorry for impoverished students and don’t hold them to the same standards.”

“I’ve never vocalized it but I’ve thought, ‘Oh, gosh, he has a rough time and he doesn’t need to work so hard today.’ And we are holding them back by doing that,” said Independence Middle art teacher Carolyn Buzbee.

The forum, held in conjunction with Independence Middle School’s Innovation Zone After School Program, funded, in part, by the Department of Education, brought members of the community together to talk about the ways they might be able to lower dropout rates in Raleigh County.

Selina Vickers, with RESA I, said socio-economic gaps make it harder for students to perform. She said she has personally seen the effects of equalizing social aspects through school uniforms.

Clyde McKnight, advisory council member for West Virginia AFL-CIO, said it really does take a village to help raise children in today’s society. “We want our communities to do better, but if kids are hungry, they aren’t going to do well in school. We have to provide a support system,” he said.

Margaret Ann O’Neal, executive director of the United Way of Southern West Virginia, agreed that the community needs to provide support to feed, clothe, doctor and emotionally support students so educators can focus on educating.

“Statistically, if we see that 32 percent of Raleigh County’s population is in prison, we know that there are that many kids without a parent at home. Superintendent Jim Brown has said there are already 100 kindergartners this year who have missed 10 days or more, not counting snow days. We have to figure out how we can follow up with these kids that are missing school and having problems. How can the community reach out to the guardians to help get these kids to school?” she asked.

 Michelle Moore, principal at Sophia Soak Creek Elementary, said parents have approached her about starting a parent buddy system to address truancy and volunteering to give students rides if needed.

This, however, creates confidentiality and liability issues if structured through the school system in any way.

DeBerry suggested starting with Parent Resource Network where parents can offer and seek resources with the idea that a buddy system could grow out of that.

Independence Middle School Band and Choir Director Mary Sue Bailey discussed the importance for students to feel like they are part of a community. She said her students are affected by her telling them their band class will be like a family.

Kristen Stanley, an Americorps volunteer with Independence Middle School’s after-school program, spoke about how effective the program has been. In all, they mentor about 60 kids per week.

On a field trip to Concord University, she said two of the students identified Concord as “a place rich kids go — to college.” She said they were able to talk to the students about furthering their education regardless of their economic status.

“It really is effective. If a students does not get straight A’s and is not good at sports, it gives them a chance to feel like they are part of something,” she explained.

The Independence after-school program is funded for another three years. DeBerry mentioned funding cost-share programs like the after-school program might be a way for businesses and organizations in the community to help reduce dropout rates in an effective way.

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