Student ditch days may be coming to an end

By: Alex Hambrick Email
By: Alex Hambrick Email

A recent grant given to District 51 this year intends to get students back in class. The $750,000 is being used to fund six new full-time positions and place students with drug and alcohol addictions in counseling.

"In the high school, it is somewhere between 10 and 14 percent, but our high school juniors and seniors are some where between 16 and 21 percent," said Prevention Services Coordinator Kathy Haller.

School officials have linked habitual ditchers to delinquent behaviors. In the last five years, drug and alcohol-related expulsions have increased by 30 percent. To combat this trend school, officials have decided a hands on approach is best.

"We have hired six full-time staff to work with the schools who have students with 80 percent attendance or less," said Haller.

Each of the area high schools have been assigned one or two advocates, depending on the number of skipping students. The role of the advocates is to work closely with the teens and establish a connection.

"Call home, make home visits, they will do what ever it takes to figure out why this student is having trouble or consistently being late," said Grand Junction Principal John Bilbo.

Bilbo identified work conflicts, family obligations, transportation issues and disinterest as the most common reasons for absences.

"They will be working with students to get them into tutoring support, to get them to graduate," said Haller.

School officials think it is important to offer support to those struggling in the classroom, rather than suspending or expelling repeat offenders.

"All we were doing before was disciplining the students, which is not really getting to the root of the problem," Haller said.

Over the next four years, officials hope that through parental involvement, decreased expulsions and close monitoring of problem students, District 51 will see a dramatic changed in attendance.

"So we are really counting on the attendance advocates to build those relationships with kids, support kids, get them back to school and get them graduated," said Haller.

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