By Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD – The West Springfield Public School District successfully reduced its dropout rate an entire percentage this past school year.
For 2012-2013, the district had a dropout rate of 2.1 percent. In recent, years that number has exceeded 5 percent. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Russell Johnston credited the success to the number of programs the district has in place to combat the issue.
Programs offered by West Springfield High School include a Dropout Prevention Team, Graduation Success, Reconnecting Youth, Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports and the 21st Century Skills Academy offered at the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative (LPVEC).
“I think it’s fantastic,” Johnston said. “It shows the dedication of the staff and students. All the programs are really coming together.”
The superintendent added that some of the outreach programs would be introduced on the elementary and middle school level within the coming year.
He said there would always be a percentage of students who are considered “dropouts” because any student that is unable to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System does not earn a diploma. That label remains even in situations where a student is unable pass the tests due to his or her special needs.
He noted that those students still receive a Certificate of Obtainment because they remained in school and did the work to earn their credits.
Reminder Publications sat down with two West Side seniors, Megan Griffin and Brett Brosseau, who are current participants in the 21st Century Skills Academy. Both are 18 and will be the first in their families to graduate high school.
The Massachusetts Department of Education website defines the mission of the academy: “To link learning with student interests and career preparation. Through the integration of rigorous academics, relevant technical and work-based learning and comprehensive student supports, the 21st Century Skills Academy will lead to higher graduation rates, increased college enrollments and higher earning potential for all graduates.”
Griffin takes part in work-based learning, where she works 20 hours a week at The Flower Stop as part of her schooling. Brosseau is studying graphic communications. Both programs are in addition to the students’ academic classes.
The students agreed that the program is the reason they are successful today.
“I probably wouldn’t be in school,” Griffin said. She has a 3-year-old daughter at home.
“I’d be in school, but I’d be failing and struggling just to graduate,” Brosseau said.
A typical classroom at West Springfield High School has a minimum of 20 students, whereas LPVEC classes consist of less than 10 students. Griffin and Brosseau prefer the smaller class sizes at LPVEC because they are able to get to know their teachers and peers, forming bonds with each other.
Griffin noted that one day her car would not start and a student she knew from the automotive department came to her house and spent two hours getting it up and running so she could come to school.
The students spoke about graduation and their futures.
“I’m probably going to cry,” Griffin said. She plans to attend college locally and enter the medical field.
“I’ll have so much weight off of my shoulders,” Brosseau said. He plans to enter the skilled workforce after graduating. He is considering a career in law enforcement in the future.
Marissa Ross, Special Education supervisor at LPVEC, credited the success of the program to the collaboration between the collaborative and West Springfield High School. She cited open and frequent communication with Johnston and the high school staff as the reason the program works.
Ross said that students are in constant communication with the teachers and administrators in the form of email, in-person visits and phone calls. The program is tailored to each students needs. Griffin, for example, attends class in the afternoon to accommodate her childcare and work needs.
Ultimately, the outcome depends on the student Ross said.
“Obviously, I would have [preferred] stayed with my friends,” Brosseau said, adding that he understood the importance of his education and enrolled in the program. He has made new friends. “I feel like I’ve matured a lot since coming here,” he said.
Both Griffin and Brosseau offered enthusiastic thanks to the district and its staff for the opportunity.