What you don’t know can hurt you – Part 1
Katrina Baumann never had much of a path in life. She didnt know what she wanted to pursue in the long run, but she knew that she wanted to at least complete her Forest Charter high school courses at home and graduate. Instead, the 17-year-old Truckee resident found herself homeless and out of school before she was able to cross the stage at graduation and grab her diploma. Baumann then became pregnant and started cleaning houses in exchange for food and a place to crash. She says she was safe and managing to get by, but knew that something would have to change with baby Emmy on the way.On a daily basis, Baumann confronted the same challenges that other dropouts in the Truckee-North Tahoe area and across the state face: low wages, diminishing job options and the increased chance that her child would also fail to graduate. I wanted to finish school because my mom got pregnant with me when she was 18 and didnt finish high school, Baumann says. I wanted to have a better life for my daughter than I had.After the birth of her child and a full years hiatus from school, Baumann enrolled for her senior year at Sierra High continuation school in Truckee. Nothing came easy, and it was unclear just how long it would take her to catch up on her studies. But Baumann kept her head down and on June 16 she will graduate, just three days before her 19th birthday.Baumann says she doesnt know what her future holds and that shes still not even sure what a high school diploma is good for, but she knows shell be glad to have one.Im just taking everything one day at a time, she says. I might be a dental hygienist or an ultrasound technician maybe a nurse. Im not sure. Im just glad [high school] is going to be over.
An increasing number of researchers are pointing fingers at a national high school dropout rate that could be considered epidemic. Nearly one-third of high school students will walk away from their education before receiving a diploma. For Latino and African-American students, that number is much higher.Dropout statistics from the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District seem tremendously optimistic when compared to state and national averages. But as researchers are beginning to realize, graduation and dropout rates reported to and by the state can be largely misleading.In 2005, The California Department of Education (CDE) reported that the Tahoe-Truckee district, which includes North Tahoe High School, Tahoe Truckee High School, Sierra High continuation school and Cold Stream Alternative school, had a four-year average dropout rate of just 5.5 percent of the student population. For the 2004-2005 school year alone, the districts reported high school dropout rate was a head-scratching 0.8 percent.I dont feel that that is an accurate number of our student dropout rate thats less than 1 percent, says district Superintendent Dennis Williams. I just dont believe that that number of ninth graders stick around and walk at graduation.
Every state is allowed to create its own definition of what a dropout is. Perhaps most relative to Californias school districts, including Tahoe Truckee Unified, is the fact that students who leave school and move to another country, even if they return to the United States and do not re-enroll, are not classified as dropouts. Neither are students who leave high school to pursue an adult education program at a junior college and dont end up finishing. How does [Californias Department of Education] get their numbers? I dont know. Theres a quagmire of data out there, and a lot of the numbers are wrong, says Jane Loomis, principal of both Sierra High and Cold Stream Alternative. A lot of years, I get my data and think no way. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that nearly one-half of Latino and African-American students will dropout, a number that is not reflected in Tahoe Truckee schools. Last year, CDE numbers portrayed the district as having just eight Hispanic dropouts from all four high schools. With 329 Hispanic students attending school in the district that year, the number of dropouts should have been statistically closer to 98. Its a hard (discrepancy) to answer because it depends on what data is collected, says Stephanie Welsh, assistant principal at North Tahoe High School. What I do know is that last year we had the largest percentage of graduating Latino students that we have ever had. Its worth celebrating.The students socio-economic level is also a key factor to consider. Students from the lowest income quarter are more than six-times as likely to leave school before graduating than their peers in the highest income quarter, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.Kids who dont make it, in many cases, are apathetic and dont see hope. They dont see the end of the process, says Penny Burney, student counselor at North Tahoe High School. I think for some families there is a great deal of pressure for financial reasons. The kids need to be a working part of the family and that is difficult to weigh-out with schooling.Jorge Luis Fernandz doesnt even consider school to be an option or a desire. The 16-year-old immigrant from Jalisco, Mexico, arrived in the United States in February. Hes living with his brother and uncle in a trailer at Donner Creek Mobile Home Park, speaks no English and earns $7.50 an hour as a dishwasher.I wont go to school anymore, he says. I will keep working because no one will give me money.His story is not out of the ordinary. Many Latinos living in local communities dropped out of middle or high school while still in Mexico, and then never enrolled in the American educational system after crossing the border. The need to help feed their families is a primary reason.There are numerous reasons that students throw in the book, but many educators think that grades are not the predominant cause. In fact, a full 88 percent of high school dropouts questioned for a study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reported that they had passing grades when they dropped out. In most cases, the magic 18th birthday marks the time when dropouts leave the scene. In California, students 16 and older can opt-out early by passing the California High School Proficiency Exam. Students looking for a quicker way out can also opt for fast-track options at Sierra High.Lucas Smith jumped at that option. The 17-year-old Truckee resident who transferred to Sierra High from Tahoe Truckee High School this year says that he cannot wait for the homework, the tests and the classes to be over. In order to escape the system, Smith is hammering out assignments in an effort to graduate a year early.I want to get a job and have free time, Smith says. Money makes the world go round.
Students on the edge have options, and a number of alternative educational programs on the North Shore have been responsible for salvaging the educational futures of hundreds of them, both young and old.Whats really happening with the (Tahoe Truckee) high schools over the past few years is collaboration, says Loomis. The schools are working towards whats best for the students.Students, primarily juniors and seniors, who are failing their classes at North Tahoe or Truckee High and who want to continue their education after having a baby, or who just need a different learning environment, can transfer to Cold Stream Alternative or Sierra High continuation school. Adults wishing to finish their secondary education are also welcome to enroll.On those smaller campuses students are given more one-on-one attention. They are able to attend classes for only a half-day so that they can continue working. Some are able to take adult education courses at Sierra College and apply those credits toward a high school diploma.Students with failing grades can challenge a course by taking a one-time shot at the final exam and passing with a 70 percent or better.Students of any age at Sierra High can also participate in General Education Development (GED) study courses before taking the exam to receive the certificate.Without the option of Sierra High and Coldstream Alternative, which offer similar options with more rigor, dozens more students would fall through the cracks each year. For many North Shore students, the program is a saving grace.Graduation is important to me, but its hard. Smith says. (Without Sierra High), I wouldnt have been happy.
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