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|Local schools land redesign funding|
Four Ouachita Parish schools and two Monroe city schools are in line for state grant money for educational initiatives to help address the dropout issue and give students a successful transition from high school.
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education recently announced it will provide $3.2 million in high school redesign grants to 24 school systems across the state.
Grants range from $45,000 to $200,000.
In Ouachita Parish, the following schools will receive funding through this grant program: Richwood Junior High, Ouachita High, West Monroe High and West Ouachita High.
The two Monroe City Schools that will receive grant funding are Robert E. Lee Junior High and Neville High.
Money can be used for projects to help students in grades eight through 12 with academic catch-up initiatives, dual enrollment/advanced credit opportunities or career technical education expansion.
"We hope these funds will serve as a catalyst for high schools to make meaningful changes in the way they educate our students," said Keith Guice, a member of BESE.
Money from the grants is available through the Louisiana Quality Education Support Fund. BESE has managed the grant program since 1986, awarding more than $717 million in grants to roughly 6,800 education projects.
Randy Hammett, high school director at Ouachita Parish Schools, said high school redesign covers many issues and school systems. Schools can choose which areas they want to focus on.
"All schools don't have to do the same thing," Hammett said. "But, one of the main parts of high school redesign is the transition from middle school to high school. The biggest portion of students who drop out are those between that freshman and sophomore year. So, a big part of high school redesign is trying to develop programs where we can help those freshman and retain them."
In some cases, teenagers who enter high school are much older than the typical freshman age and many have fallen behind others in their grade level.
"So you can't use traditional (teaching methods) and what we've been doing and still be successful with those students," Hammett explained. "So we've tried to develop a program that's more of a support system that gives more attention to those freshman that we have in the past. We feel like if we can get them through that freshman year, we have a whole lot better chance of retaining them."
He said some schools also have begun to offer different courses that are "more relevant" to these young people.
"A lot of students have come to the realization they're not going to be able to go to college, so what do we have available for them? There's a big push by many in the state to not only provide them with an education, but train them to go to work," Hammett said.
More than 18,000 high school students throughout the state drop out each year. Local and state leaders say the problem will only exacerbate an already poorly trained workforce.
Economic development leaders in the state say the No. 1 reason given by companies for not locating in Louisiana is the lack of a qualified workforce.
That is one of the reasons Ouachita Parish Schools joined forces with the West Ouachita/West Monroe Chamber of Commerce to work with new teachers to help them better assist at-risk students. The overall goal of the initiative is to develop community-wide solutions to the dropout problem in the region and state.
Working with the Ouachita Parish School Board, the West Monroe/West Ouachita chamber developed several programs for intervention, support and mentoring of students. Several seminars with local educators have been held this year to better train teachers in assisting at-risk students.
Several local lawmakers say one way to address the dropout problem is to provide educational opportunities for students who most likely will not attend a college or university.
That's why many local and state officials are proponents of providing more skilled job training for students. So, when these students graduate from high school they can more easily find a good-paying job.
Another option is to take advantage of nearby technical and community colleges and let students get job training before they graduate high school.
Currently, an effort is under way at technical and community colleges to have high school students participate in dual-enrollment classes.
High school students who are dual-enrolled with a community or technical college would get job training while also earning college credit.