Dubuque school district re-engaging dropouts - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque school district re-engaging dropouts

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

The Dubuque Community School District is now more than two weeks into a program it calls the Re-engagement Center.

Program organizers hope to arm at least a quarter of recent high school dropouts with their high school diploma or GED.

Shirley Horstman is director of student services for the Dubuque Community School District. On Wednesday, she said the district has a fairly steady high school graduation rate of about 87 percent but district officials want that higher.

With anywhere from 120 to 170 dropouts per year, she said, the district has hired one man to head up the new program.

Tom Kershner's title is re-engagement coach, and he's filled with enthusiasm for the new program.

"Failure is not an option. That's the motto on my business card," he said Wednesday. "We're trying to re-engage 25 percent, and I definitely want to shoot well over that. Over 50 percent. 100 percent would be great!"

Kershner meets with high school dropouts to figure out why they left school and encourage them to return. However, keeping these teens and young adults in school once they've returned may prove difficult.

"The challenges are just old behaviors and old obstacles that got in their way in the first place," Kershner said. "We want to try to eliminate those."

"Sometimes there are drug, alcohol problems, there are mental health issues, there are medical reasons, a whole host of things, so he is working very closely with community agencies to make sure that each student has the supports they need to be successful," Horstman said.

Kershner works with the dropouts to form an individualized plan for each one, which will eventually lead to a high school diploma or GED.

"But we're not stopping there," Horstman said, "because part of our program is beyond that. Once we get that first step, we then want to get them skills: a certificate program from like, for example, NICC, but the long-term goal is to get them into the community in a meaningful job."

The program is a partnership between the Dubuque Community School District, Northeast Iowa Community College and Dubuque's Project Hope.

"There's something about going through it and succeeding and going through that development process that builds character," Kershner said.

In its two and a half weeks of existence in Dubuque, the program has reached out to about eight dropouts. Of those, Kershner said, five or six of them are now working toward their GED, one is at the district's Alternative Learning Center and another started at Dubuque Senior High School Wednesday.

The target age group is dropouts 16- to 21-years-old, since Iowa law requires students younger than 16 to remain in school. Iowa law also dictates a person not be older than 21 in order to get his or her high school diploma. Beyond that, a GED is the goal.

Horstman said there are about 25 other re-engagement centers like Dubuque's nationwide.

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