Some high school dropouts drawn back to class

The Baltimore Sun

Eighteen-year-old Christian Anderson was just two credits shy of graduation at City College when he dropped out of high school last spring. He was trying to figure out a way to earn a GED when, a few days ago, he got a call from his old guidance counselor.

Thanks to that call, Anderson found himself yesterday at Dunbar Middle School, where the city school system was holding the first of two "resource fairs" to help dropouts finish their education. He arranged to take his final two classes - in English and world history - through an alternative program, and he talked with a Marine Corps recruiter about enlisting in January.

Last week, Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso ordered all city high schools to call and pay home visits to 925 students who have dropped out since January. As of Tuesday night, 68 students had re-enrolled, school system officials said yesterday. In addition, about 300 students who were supposed to transfer schools but hadn't shown up this academic year have been located and brought back to class.

The 68 students are included among the 925; the 300 are not.

Alonso said the system has received several calls from parents wanting to know if the schools will really take their children back. The answer: Yes, they really will. And Alonso said he's trying to change the way schools respond when students drop out, so as not to let them go without a fight.

On Tuesday night, community leaders assisted school employees and central office administrators in knocking on doors, trying to round up dropouts to attend the resource fairs yesterday and today.

Yesterday morning, three of the youths were waiting at the door to Dunbar Middle for the resource fair to open at 10 a.m. By early evening, about 50 had attended. The fairs are aimed at the 380 oldest dropouts, who are between 18 and 20 and less likely to want to return to a regular high school because of their age.

Upon entering the fair, students met with system employees to talk about their education history, what went wrong and how many credits they need to graduate. The employees looked up their transcripts and discussed their options before sending the students to meet with the service providers in the hallway.

In a corridor filled with freshly painted green lockers, a few dozen smiling men and women sat at rectangular fold-out tables covered in colorful plastic cloths, eager to distribute brochures about the job training, GED programs and social services they offer. In the auditorium, immunizations were available to those who needed them. By the school entrance, military recruiters had set up shop.

Students browsing the tables learned that they could earn a high school diploma online through Baltimore City Community College. They can attend morning, afternoon or evening classes - whatever works around their employment schedules. They can spend a year or two living at the Woodstock Job Corps Center, gaining job skills in fields such as nursing and welding, in addition to academic credits. If they've completed at least freshman year and earned a minimum score on the military entrance exam, they can get a GED in only two weeks if they enlist in the National Guard and undergo an intensive 14-day program in Little Rock, Ark.

For those who are homeless, the City Steps Youth Resource Center stands ready to offer assistance. For those under supervision by the Department of Juvenile Services for criminal activity, case management is available from Operation Safe Kids.

Anderson was happy to sign up to finish his high school career at one of the city's two Youth Opportunity centers and even happier to make contact with the Marines. By late morning, he was sitting at the Marines' recruitment table as though he worked there.

At the National Guard table, Staff. Sgt. Brian Chaney could relate to those passing through. At 16, growing up in Indiana, he dropped out of high school. That was 22 years ago. He has since earned a GED and a bachelor's degree, and he's working toward a master's. "The National Guard picked me up," he said.

A second resource fair is planned for 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today at Frederick Douglass High School, 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway.

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