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Choice Program lowers drop-out rate

WINTON – High school students face a choice: stay in or drop out.

One new Hertford County Schools program aims to help students make the right choice by encouraging them to stay in school.

Aptly named, the Choice Program was funded by a $97,000 grant and headed up by Francis Peele, HCS Director of Student Services.

The program launched this past spring and was enormously successful, according to Peele.

Of the 40 eighth graders who participated, all of whom were deemed “at risk” students, every single one was promoted to the ninth grade and successfully began the new school year last month.

Even better, 10 of those students chose to enter the Early College High School. The remaining 30 entered the Ninth Grade Academy.

Statistics show that over the last six years, the yearly dropout rate for Hertford County Schools has steadily declined – so much so that it is now half what it once was, at 3.14 percent.

Compared to the state average of a six percent yearly dropout rate and considering that Hertford’s dropout rate was once one of the worst in the state, that’s quite impressive.

“We’re very proud of how low the dropout rate is now, even compared to the year before when it was up around five percent,” stated Hertford County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Basham.

But how does the Choice Program work?

“We’re just making sure to motivate the kids and provide an addition to students in the county to make sure they are learning,” Peele explained.

She continued, “We offered tutorials this past spring and summer in which we had college activities, either to enhance their schooling or provide them with remedial studies in math, science and technology.”

Peele and a group of other educators, including a guidance counselor and a social worker, traveled with the 40 students to Chowan University, where they were shown what a real college experience is like.

“We wanted them to be able to see the college atmosphere and feel the excitement, and to see how important education is, and they did see that,” Peele noted.

Peele explained that rising ninth graders were targeted because that’s when students historically have begun dropping out at the highest rate.

Starting very soon, Peele will again start “recruiting” eighth graders for this year’s program.

Students deemed to be at risk for dropping out, such as those who would be first generation college students, those with low grades or past disciplinary problems, would be targeted first.

If anyone is interested in having their child enter the program and the student is currently an eighth grader, parents can call the Hertford County Schools Administrative Office at 358-1761 and ask for Francis Peele.