Media Archive

Alternative programs help to keep kids in school

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 164, No. 20, May 15, 2002

By Sarah MacIlroy
Staff Writer

Some area schools struggle with dropouts

Education is just one element that sets America apart from and often above the rest of the world. Making education to all people regardless of race, religion and creed can open up a world of opportunities and a wealth of options. Americans can choose where they want to go and who they want to be, thanks in large part to the building block of education.

However, each year, thousands of American teens opt out of their educational opportunities, leaving high
school before graduation, and students in the Penquis Region are no exception.

"Any number (of dropouts) is too high. If you lose one kid, it's too many," said Piscataquis Community High
School Principal Bruce Lindberg, whose school reports a dropout rate of just under 5 percent.

Some schools report similar numbers: Greenville High School reports just over 4 percent of its students drop-
ping out, with Foxcroft Academy pulling in a close second at 5 percent.

However, the numbers at other area schools run higher.

Dexter Regional High School reports its percentage of dropouts running "approximately below 10 percent."
And Penquis Valley High School brings up the rear with a percentage hovering somewhere between 15 and 17 percent¸a number Principal John Robinson says is "not good, but honest."

Foxcroft Academy Headmaster Bradley Ashley believes area high schools share a portion of local dropouts who are "students without a home base" that move from place to place.

"That's the interesting part," Ashley explained. "If the five schools compared, I bet you'd find the same kids
bouncing around from school to school."

PCHS Senior Adam Stade was one of the students who "bounced around" before settling into school.

While struggling with family problems and other issues, Stade said he spent a lot of time just "hanging
out," some of it on the streets of Bangor. Eventually, Stade settled with his grandparents in Guilford where he
set his sights on graduation and achieved a level of success that has made him the sort of student Principal
Lindberg is happy to talk about.

So what brought this senior around? Good teachers and staff at the high school helped a lot, but Stade said
he believes the prayers of his grandmother made the big difference.

"It might sound strange," he said. "But I think God helped me... My grandmother mentioned when I started
to get back in school that she had prayed for me every day."

Stade, who now frequents the honor roll at PCHS, said

he plans to attend the University of Maine at Orono when he graduates this year.

Although his own road to a high school diploma has included some detours, Stade encourages other students to stick with it "if you want to
do whatever you want."

"You'll have a lot more to offer" if you stay in school, he says.

Greenville High School Principal Faye Booker said that she feels a lot of the dropout issues are tied to behavior issues. As a result, she said the Greenville school system tries to start early teaching students how to act. "We try to intervene early on in," she said. "You can tell if kids exhibit certain behaviors that there could be problems."

Booker explained that in the elementary grades students receive character education to give them the building blocks of better behavior. In middle school, students study peer mediation and learn how to talk problems out.

"A lot of it is kids who, right now, education doesn't interest them,"she explained.

However, for some students, no matter what the approach, traditional classroom settings just don't work. But some of those on the verge of dropping out find that the schools have more to offer.

Students facing issues that make traditional education impossible are usually offered alternative programs .Adult education helps some students to study for the skills they need, and block classes or correspondence classes can help get GEDs allowing a student time to work or deal with other issues.

"We try to be as creative as we can be," said Lindberg. "Number one is we try to get students to go to Tri-County Tech."

The Tri-County Technical Center offers juniors and seniors from Piscataquis, Penobscot and Somerset counties the opportunity to train for work in a variety of different programs.

"The tech center saves us a lot of students," said DRHS Guidance Counselor Deanna Eaton. "It gives students a more hands-on approach."

Eaton explained that Harry Roberts is a good example of students who excel in the tech school program. Roberts, who is enrolled in the center's truck driving and metals manufacturing programs, said he's doing something "he'd always wanted to do," and feels as if he probably would have dropped out if the option hadn't been available.

"This is really good for anybody. The people are encouraging, and you don't just sit in a classroom," he said. "It's probably one of the best things I've ever done."

Eaton agrees.

"There are two things that are important to teenagers: independence and an identity. An education is the best way to get that," she said.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.