Schools look to lower dropout rate - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Schools look to lower dropout rate

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WATERLOO (KWWL) - High school graduation rates are better than they were 10 years ago.

Still, just more than 1/2 of high school students in major cities graduated on time in 2005.

Iowa has one of the country's highest graduation rates at 88.7%

However, urban districts continue to have the most dropouts.

Waterloo Schools are 2nd only to Des Moines with the highest dropout rate.

School officials are working to lower the dropout rate.

Measures include a new computerized credit recovery program that will be installed this summer at all high schools.

Officials say it will help kids learn at their own pace - keeping them off the streets and in the classroom.

Those who've dropped out in the past can also get back in the classroom thanks to a 5 year old partnership with Hawkeye Community College called GRADConnection.

Meeiesha Tillman is on track to getting her diploma from Waterloo's West High School.

After being suspended, Tillman says she was on the road to dropping out.

"You give an option like that, go to school or not go to school, which one do you honestly think a kid will pick? Not go to school. That's the one I was going to lean towards," said Tillman.

She says thanks to some persistent teachers, she decided to stay in school thanks to the GRADConnection program.

It combines independent study with guidance from teachers to make up lost work after being out of school for extended time.

"It's an opportunity that says this is a chance for you if you take it. We can only open the door. You have to walk through and do the work," said program coordinator Cheri Cederlund.

"Yes, there are a lot of students making wrong choices just as adults but giving them an opportunity, a new avenue to earn a diploma through the new programs we're bringing in clearly will be a motivation to keep our kids in schoo," said Waterloo Schools Executive Director of At-Risk and Student Services.

One of those new programs received a $4000 grant.

It will allow kids at risk of dropping out a chance to learn at their own pace out of the classroom but at their school.

"Flexibility is the key and if we set the stage that they can come in in the mornings or afternoons and still have those opportunities to stay engaged in school, that's the positive thing to do," said Turner.

That's worked for Tillman.

She'll enroll at Hawkeye in the fall to start a medical career.

"What happened to me, I brought it on myself, so you feel like you brought it on yourself. To get out of that hole, you'll do that work to get out of that hole so I did that work to get out of that hole so I'm pretty proud of myself," said Tillman.

Waterloo Schools leaders say the district makes every effort to keep kids in school.

Still, their graduation rate is 74.19%.

This year, about 175 kids used the GRADConnection program.

That's the highest participation since the program started 5 years ago.

Online Reporter:  Bob Waters

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