New Great Mills H.S. Program Aimed at Cutting Drop-Out Rate

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New Great Mills H.S. Program Aimed at Cutting Drop-Out Rate

Great Mills, MD - 4/28/2012

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By Dick Myers

Photo Courtesy of North East Photo Network
Photo Courtesy of North East Photo Network

A new program at Great Mills High School aimed at preventing dropouts has been deemed a success. The on-line, digital curriculum supplied by Apex Learning is being funded through a three-year grant from America’s Promise Alliance, founded by Gen. Colin Powell.

The program is aimed at allowing students to recover lost credit from failed courses. They do so at their own pace either during school, after school or at home.

The program was one of several discussed during a community forum at Great Mills sponsored by the school and the St. Mary’s County Branch of the NAACP. The program dubbed “Gearing up for 2013: What Does It Take to Graduate from High School,” was attended by several dozen mostly adult citizens.

Great Mills High School Principal Jake Heibel said 558 of the school’s students are currently enrolled in Apex and more than a thousand have participated in this first year of operation. Of the participants, 217 have recovered credits by passing the required course work for the credit.

School Superintendent Dr. Michael Matrirano told the audience that the program will be rolled out to Leonardtown and Chopticon high schools next year and will be expanded at Great Mills, which was chosen as the pilot because of its high African-American dropout rate (25 percent).

In opening remarks, NAACP President Wayne Scriber quoted Margaret Mead as saying: “When we save our children, we save ourselves.” He added, “If we are going to maximize our chance for success we must unite our community.”

The need for a community effort was echoed by several speakers throughout the evening. And Janice Walthour, the NAACP’s education chair, challenged everyone in the audience to spread the message heard throughout the evening.

Dr. Martirano said the system’s goal was to have every student either college ready or career ready. And Scott Smith, the system’s director of secondary schools and school improvement, said ideally every student would be prepared for both. To achieve that, Smith outlined 50 possible pathways to graduation available for every student.

Some of the alternative pathways available include Fairlead Academy, the tech center, the STEM Academy at Great Mills, the Academy of Finance at Chopticon and the Academy of Global and International Studies at Leonardtown.

Fairlead is the alternate school designed for students deemed in danger of not graduating in one of the three high schools. It has smaller classes and individualized support systems. The school was originally designed just for 9th graders. Dr. Martirano told of a student who begged him to extend it to a 10th grade because he needed the extra help. The superintendent pushed for it and the school board agreed, ultimately to a full four years.

Fairlead has a 9th and 10th grade at the old Great Mills Elementary and an 11th and 12th grade at the Dr. James Forrest Career and Technology Center. Rebecca Cline, the 9th and 10th grade principal, said of the 59 students in that first class four years ago, 43 will be in the first graduating class this year.

Cline said that data shows that when a student is held back one year their chance of dropping out is 50 percent and when that goes to a second year the drop-out rate rises to 90 percent.

Dr. Martirano told the audience, “If you know of a student who isn’t successful, we have the resources at the high schools.” He urged them to personally call or e-mail him with the information.

St. Mary’s County Commissioner President Francis “Jack” Russell (D) was in attendance early in the meeting but had left by the time Scriber noted the need for school funding to address the issues talked about during the evening. “You need to vote for people who support education,” he said.

Scriber also praised former Department of Economic and Community Development Director Dr. Bob Schaller, who was in attendance, for his leadership of the Business, Education and Community Alliance (BECA), which has been responsible for much scholarship to county students.

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