The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

May 24, 2008

DROPPING OUT: Schools work to keep students through graduation

While most seniors at area high schools are preparing for the graduation march, others have taken a different path.

Dropout rates across the Cambria-Somerset region vary greatly from school to school. But each district faces the challenge: Convincing teenagers to stay in school until they reach graduation.

It’s a problem shared by all schools regardless of geography, enrollment and demographics. Even districts with low dropout statistics know that students are walking their halls, thinking about leaving school before earning their diplomas.

State law says students can legally sign out of school at age 18. At 17, compulsory attendance laws no longer are in effect and a parent can sign a child out. A parent can sign out a 16-year-old if the parent can show a general employment certificate and that the student is working during school hours.

Administrators agree: There is no easy answer.

‘Making that connection’

Ferndale Area School District had a 1.6 percent dropout rate for the 2006-07 school year, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

That put Ferndale at the middle of the pack for Cambria County.

Superintendent Christine Oldham believes the key to keeping kids in school is her district’s size.

“I do believe having this small size helps us get kids through graduation,” she said. “We are in close contact with them and (with) parents, and we want them to know we are here to support those students who are struggling and find themselves in unfortunate situations.”

Each year, the state Department of Education releases a list of public secondary school dropouts.

The data are collected through the public-school enrollment report and public dropout survey. The numbers provide an overview of the fall enrollment and the total number of dropouts throughout a single school year.

Ferndale is set to graduate 56 seniors this year, should everyone qualify.

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