The Dropout Dilemma: Part One

By: Erin Logan Email
By: Erin Logan Email

The dropout dilemma is a problem facing many all across the nation including right here in Michiana.

According a study done by Johns Hopkins University, there are nearly half a dozen area schools that are considered dropout factories, including Benton Harbor, Dowagiac Union, and Coloma. A school is considered a dropout factory if less than 60-percent of the students who enter high school make it to their senior year.

South Bend Community School Corporation faces nearly the same graduation rates. Only six out of ten students graduate. The dropout dilemma is a crisis for many educators and state legislators.

Ditching the books and doing drugs was life for 18-year-old Victoria Hampton.

Victoria says instead of going to school she would get drunk and high. After a few months, she realized she needed to get her life back on track. Victoria headed to the Youth Build, an alternative education program in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Victoria says she’s happier now. She is also building confidence on her quest for a high school degree. NewsCenter16 caught up with Victoria as she gave a speech in front of her classmates and United States Congressman Fred Upton. Victoria shared her story with the class, describing what it was like to live on the streets and not having any parental support.

Representative Upton knows the dropout dilemma is a problem for his district. He says there are three key factors that contribute to the dropout problem. A lack of parental involvement, a loss of interest in traditional schooling, and large class sizes are all issues that inhibit the education process according to Upton.

Dr. Carole Schmidt, superintendent of Benton Harbor schools adds something else to that list. She says that, “the dropout rate, if you look at it, is symptomatic – societal issues. My belief is that children love school when they start at the elementary level.”

But as the children progress in their education, Schmidt and Upton agree that it takes teachers, parents, and more to keep them motivated. They think the key may be making the learning exciting with interactive lessons.

If the schools can’t keep them motivated, it’s easy for the students to fall through the cracks. Representative Upton believes this is why programs like Youth Build are important. He says, “once they drop out, if they don’t have a program that catches them, they’re gone. This program is a perfect example of what works. They are self starters and these kids are going to succeed.”

Success in the classroom isn’t always a top priority for some area students. Many think they will make their mark outside of the school on a basketball court like 19-year-old Tremaine Owens thought.

Tremaine can’t go back in time to change his decision to quit school and the basketball team at Washington High School. Now he spends his time at The Crossings, working towards a high school degree. Tremaine’s still practicing his basketball game and is hoping that with a degree in hand, his dreams can come true.

Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey has seen stories like Tremaine’s too often.

Coach Brey says “it’s amazing to see the number of young men who are good enough, talented enough, but when you do the research – it’s amazing to see the percentage of kids who’ve cancelled themselves out because of academics.”

Both Tremaine and Victoria say it’s disappointing it took some road blocks to make them realize the value of education. They are not counting down the months until they get their diplomas.

Not everyone gets back on the education track so early on. Wednesday night on the Dropout Dilemma, meet Karen Williams. She is a 39-year-old single mother in Benton Harbor who will attest to just how valuable a high school diploma is. See Karen’s story on part two of The Drop Out Dilemma.

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