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United Way of Central Maryland works to stem school dropout rates in Baltimore, Anne Arundel

United Way of Central Maryland is expanding an initiative aimed at stemming school dropout rates after seeing success with the program during its trial year.

The program, On Track 4 Success, which was rolled out last year at Maree G. Farring Elementary/Middle School in South Baltimore, will now be used at Benjamin Franklin High School in the Brooklyn neighborhood. It will also be launched at Meade Middle School in Anne Arundel County. United Way officials announced the initiative Wednesday morning.

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Across Central Maryland, 2,300 students — two of every 25 students — did not graduate from high school last year. The number is even higher in areas of Baltimore. The United Way program works to identify early signs that a student is struggling and might eventually drop out and intervenes before that happens.

"These are not just numbers, these are children who need our help," Franklyn Baker, the organization's president and CEO, said in a statement. "And what we want these students to know is that they are not alone."

A social worker sponsored by United Way worked with Maree G. Farring fourth- and sixth-graders when the pilot program was conducted at the school last year. She teamed up with other administrators to analyze school data and identify students who had attendance, behavior or academic problems that are predictors of students dropping out of school, officials said.

Of the students pinpointed, 46 percent were back on track by the end of the school year, according to the United Way. This year, the program will target students in fourth through eighth grades at the school.

"The older they get, the further they fall behind and the harder it is to crawl back," said Benjamin Crandall, the school principal. "If we're addressing these problems in high school, it's not necessarily too late, but it's a heck of a lot harder."

A group of sixth-graders at the school who were struggling with basic math skills launched a peer tutoring group last year supported by United Way staff members. Among these students, 67 percent went from being "off track" to "on track" in mathematics by the end of the school year.

Many Maree G. Farring students go on to attend Benjamin Franklin High School, where United Way is expanding its presence. Natalie Dixon, a United Way education program officer, said the organization wants "to stay with them during their crucial ninth-grade transitional year."

She said the United Way wants to eventually bring its program to other schools.

"We hope that with the continued success of these programs, we will be able to roll out On Track 4 Success in additional neighborhoods United Way of Central Maryland serves, including those in Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties," Dixon said.

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