School dropout rates in Sampson County are continuing to improve, thanks to concerned educators and successful programs targeting the students most at risk for dropping out.
Sampson County Schools’ current dropout rate is 3.14, significantly lower than it was just a few years ago.
“A little while ago, the rate was around 6 but we’ve basically cut in half since then,” said Dr. Ethan Lenker, Sampson County Schools superintendent.
Lenker noted that he and the school board have been diligent in addressing the dropout issue. “The past four years dropout rates and graduation rates have been a focus of the board. We’ve made it one of our top priorities.”
To aid their efforts, Sampson County Schools received two grants from the state around four years ago specifically to help get that system’s dropouts to drop back in, according to Lenker.
“We used the dropout grants to hire five student advocate positions,” the superintendent pointed out.
“The student advocates talk to students — and really parents, too — about staying in school. Basically, their job is to go and meet kids at home when there seems to be a problem,” explained Lenker. “They help students and their parents understand how important it is to be in school and what it means for their futures. I think it’s been real successful.”
Tommy Macon, director of Secondary Education for Sampson County Schools, agreed. “When kids are absent, the advocates call their parents or visit their homes to discuss what’s going on. The advocates are so valuable and play such a vital role. We’ve found, since hiring the advocates, parents are more receptive to phone calls and visits. These advocates show them that we really do care about their children.”
Macon also shared that their peer mentoring program plays an equally important part in keeping students in school.”High school students, juniors and seniors, become mentors for the freshmen. We train the mentors and they’re assigned students for the entire year. They really help the younger students adjust to high school and feel comfortable in the environment.”
Peer mentors are not in short supply either, according to Macon. “We have lots of students who want to be mentors, so we have a big pool to choose from. They really get excited about it; it’s something that they take pride in.”
Clinton City Schools has also seen its dropout rate improve yet again. Last year, the rate was a low 2.64. Now, it’s even lower at 1.78, according to Terrace Miller, Clinton City Schools’ assistant superintendent for Student Services and Federal Programs.
When asked about the steps they have taken to get their dropout rate so low, Miller prasied Clinton High School’s 22 credit diploma program run by Louie Boykin, the school’s student advocate.
“The program allows students to complete high school with 22 credits. While the high school requires 28 credits to graduate, the state only requires 22 specific credits,” said Miller of the program. “Students who complete the program can say that they did graduate.”
“Mr. Boykin finds those students who are the most likely to drop out, those who are two years behind their cohorts, and he works with them,” continued Miller. “He meets and talks with them, explains the 22 credit program to them, and then he moniters their classes with them. He makes sure that they’re taking the right classes at the right time, and he helps them get after school credit recovery opportunities if they need it.”
According to Miller, Boykin usually has 20 to 25 students in the 22 credit diploma program and each year he’s making a difference in those kids’ lives. “Each year, he’s saving kids who are at risk for dropping out. It’s his third year there now and things are going really well. This year, none of the kids on his list are having to seek after school help; they’re all on track. He’s just taken the program and run with it. He really wants the kids to do well.”
Boykin not only works with students but also reaches out to parents as well, added Miller. “He stays on top of attendance. When a student isn’t there, he’s calling or going out to their home, talking to their parents, and finding out what’s going on. Parents, like the kids, can get frustrated too, and they’re so appreciative for his help. He gives them hope.”
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 123 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.