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Greenville Journal: Program aims to prevent high school dropouts in middle school

By Cindy Landrum
Published May 28, 2015

Many students who don't graduate from high school actually take the first steps toward dropping out in middle school.

OnTrack Greenville, an initiative that could total $15 million over five years, will utilize real-time data to identify students in four schools who show signs they're disengaging from school - their grades start to slip, they stop turning in homework, they start getting in trouble or they come to school late or not at all.

OnTrack Greenville begins June 15 and targets schools in the White Horse Road corridor - Berea, Lakeview and Tanglewood middle schools and Greenville Early College, a program for underachieving middle and high school students from low-income families.

At the first signs of trouble, a team of educators and community experts will try to identify the root cause and get the students and their families the help they need. Five organizations have been chosen to implement programs with proven track records at the four schools.

"We're not waiting six or nine weeks until the progress report comes out," said Dr. Jason McCreary, Greenville County Schools' director of accountability and quality assurance. "By then, it's too late."

The programs are:

  • BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) will provide a six-week summer program for 220 academically struggling rising sixth-graders. Students in the program average academic gains of 2-3 months instead of losing ground during the summer.
  • Communities in Schools will provide a coordinator for each grade level at each middle school. Communities in Schools provides one-on-one support, home visits, after-school opportunities and other interventions.
  • Greenville County Schools will hire a mental health specialist and implement a teen leadership class in each school.
  • Public Education Partners will provide specialized literacy training for teachers.
  • Greenville Health System will start health clinics at each middle school. The clinics will have telemedicine equipment that will allow videoconferencing with GHS physicians.

"It is a proactive, prescriptive approach," Tanglewood Middle Principal William Price said. Price said the additional resources would stop many of his students from falling through the cracks. "I know with this many people working together, there's no way we're not going to see some level of change."

The United Way of Greenville County received a $3 million federal Social Innovation fund grant for the project. It is matching the grant dollar for dollar. The sub-grantees must also provide matches and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy, a group of charitable foundations and companies, is helping them do that.

"The Social Innovation Fund is committed to scaling and building the evidence of innovative, community-based programs," said Lois Nembhard, acting director. "Through OnTrack Greenville, Greenville County's middle school students, who are at risk of dropping out, will receive the tailored support they need to not only stay in school but to thrive."

BY THE NUMBERS:

  • 4 Middle schools involved in a new Early Warning and Response System to identify students disengaging from school.
  • 5 Sub-grantees receiving money from the United Way of Greenville County to offer services through OnTrack Greenville.
  • 12 Percent of middle school students in the White Horse Road area chronically absent from school (missed 18 days or more).
  • 25 Percentage of students in those schools who received out-of-school suspension.
  • 52 Percentage of middle school students in those schools that did not meet state math standards.

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