A WAY TO STAY Kenwood High focuses on preventing dropouts


The student dropout rate at Kenwood High School in Baltimore County is unquestionably high, says English teacher Brenda DeGori.

"The most difficult time for a student is when they're entering the sixth and ninth grade," DeGori said. "It's a big transition moving from middle school to high school. They're still adolescents, but they're being thrown into a more mature situation."

To help alleviate some of the problems associated with moving from middle to high school, Kenwood High teachers are piloting a program at the school aimed specifically at keeping ninth-grade students interested and enrolled in school.

"We have to reach the students now," DeGori said. "By the time they move to the 10th grade, they've reached the age where they can drop out."

In Baltimore County, the dropout rate for students in grades 9-12 is about 4.8 percent of the high school population, said Paul Mazza, manager of the school system's office of testing and pupil data. Statewide, the dropout rate is 6.5 percent.

Dropout figures for individual schools are unavailable because the system is changing the way it calculates the dropout rate, Mazza said.

Kenwood's program will focus on providing the students with skills they need to be successful students. Those skills include helping students organize their notebooks, homework assignment sheets and their time.

"Organization is a real problem," DeGori said. "We're trying to get them to have a system in which everything they need is right there for them."

L Students were given one loose-leaf notebook for all classes.

The program also will focus on study skills, the rewards of participating in school activities, the importance of self-esteem, and the importance of a high school education, DeGori said.

Kenwood teachers, as well as teachers from its feeder schools, Middle River Middle and Stemmers Run Middle schools, began working on their project after receiving funding from the school system's teacher incentive grants program.

Audrey Patrick, who works for the English department at Stemmers Run said one of the biggest problems freshmen face is the new-found freedom of high school.

"In middle school, students are used to having the added attention from their teachers," Patrick said. "But when they get to high school, a teacher may give them an assignment that's not due for three weeks. They're given much more independence."

In its fifth year, the teacher incentive program allows teachers the opportunity to apply for funding of projects they may want to initiate during a school year.

Competitive school-based grants, like the program at Kenwood, are projects for a large part of a school's faculty. Creative and unique grants provide money to teachers who may want to initiate a project for a specific class.

For instance, Caroline Lapan, a teacher at Catonsville High School, has written a creative and unique grant that would integrate minority literature into the English program.

The $15,000 grant that Kenwood teachers received paid for the orientation supplies given to students, teacher workshops during the previous school year and over the summer, and a videotape produced for the students about life at Kenwood High.

At the start of the school year, Kenwood students mourned the deaths of two classmates, William Wesley "Billy" Winebrenner, 16, and his sweetheart, Melody Nicole Pistorio, 14, who were shot on Labor Day during a robbery at a gas station in the 9000 block of Pulaski Highway.

The anti-dropout program, which will be yearlong, began even before the start of school. Teachers met in mid-August to prepare the notebooks and orientation lessons for the incoming students. Junior and senior class students, who volunteered to be "buddies" for the newcomers, also attended the summer meetings.

About 50 juniors and seniors will be buddies to the nearly 300 incoming freshmen throughout the year.

Parents of freshmen also attended evening orientation sessions. Teachers and parents will work together during the year to make sure students stay on track.

During the first two days of the school year, freshmen did not have to attend classes other than homeroom.

"We want to let them see the school, get used to the school," DeGori said. "We want to help them set goals. We want to let them know they can do anything they want to do."

But the program did not end with the two-day orientation. DeGori said teachers and buddies will have an ongoing process of meeting with students to review their goals, and make sure the goals are being met.

"We're hoping to get them [freshmen] enthused about school," DeGori said. "I think if we can get them more involved in clubs and activities, they would try harder to improve their academic image.

"Without the maturity to buckle down and study, they just get off to a bad start," DeGori said.

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