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Reaching out to drop outs

by Maggie Crane

KMOV.com

Posted on August 13, 2010 at 9:10 AM

While students all over the metro area gear up to head back to school next week, there's a group of volunteers going door to door to try to get students who had dropped out to give school a second chance.

It's a program in the Normandy School District called Reach Out to Drop Outs, and it's working one student at a time.

Deonta Burgess never saw school as a priority.  His life was in the streets; no plans for the future, no hope for a long life.

"There's no support (any) more, ain't nobody care about anything," Burgess says.  "It's like everybody (is) either going to jail or just losing their life for nothing -- all for nothing."

Robbery, drugs, losing friends:  it all began to take its toll when Deonta became a dad -- twice.  He's 19.

"The streets wouldn't be the best option for me," Burgess says.  "I need to go to school and be a productive person. "

But it took some persuasion from his high school after Deonta dropped out when he was 16.

Only two-thirds of students in the Normandy School District graduate.  But the Reach Out to Drop Outs program encourages teens to come back to the classroom; admittedly -- a tough task.
   
"Even when we try to encourage kids to come back to school, those problems don't go away," Dr. Stanton Lawrence, superintendent of the Normandy School District, says.

"When I went back to school, it was hard because I had a job, my baby momma had a job, and my kids had to go to school, and this was everyday," Burgess says.

But the district is determined to work with students to keep them in school and off the dead-end streets.  They try to make school as flexible as possible, even offering online courses.

"If one kid graduates, it was worth our effort, so to see three graduate with this 2010 class was encouraging, but it forces us to look back to see what can we do differently; what can we do to improve," Dr. Lawrence says.

This fall Deonta will start college courses to become a plumbing engineer in hopes of providing for his family's future.

"I want to see my kids grow up to be something successful," Burgess says.  "I want to give them the good motive to go to school; do what you do, because look what your daddy became."

The Wellston School District just merged with Normandy this summer.  Those students who have dropped out or are in danger of dropping out will also be targeted to return to school.

Teams of four or five volunteers make home visits with the students and their families to plot a plan to come back to the classroom and work toward a diploma.  The teams will fan out across the district starting August 21.

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