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|Program to thwart school drop outs gets boost from CTB, Entergy|
Students across northeast Louisiana drop out of school at an alarming rate each year and several local groups want to determine why and work to prevent it.
The West Monroe-West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce partnered with Ouachita Parish Schools, Entergy and Community Trust Bank to implement a program to address the region's high drop out rate.
On Wednesday, Entergy and CTB officials provided the chamber and Ouachita Parish Schools with financial donations toward the project. Entergy provided $5,000, and CTB gave $2,000 toward it.
Chamber president Mary Ann Newton said the project has been in development for about seven months. It works hand-in-hand with the program the chamber and Ouachita Parish Schools began roughly two years ago to help teachers better assist at-risk students.
"We're doing this with the Ouachita Parish School Board and the mandates they've been asked to meet through Next Horizon and the state drop out program," Newton said.
Next Horizon is a statewide non-profit organization, which focuses on Pre-kindergarten to 12th grade education. Newton is one of the members of the Next Horizon board of directors for the state.
"One of the things we're doing is facilitating conferences and seminars to help instructors, staff, volunteer organizations, even police departments and other community groups on addressing the problem of drop outs," Newton said. "We don't want to just identify the problem, but determine what the causes are, outline the effects and try to begin programming for intervention and prevention."
The chamber collected data from parish teachers about some of the reasons they believe students drop out of school.
"There's a lot of misconceptions about drop outs," Newton explained. "They are not kids who are juvenile delinquents. Some of them have very serious problems at home. There's a lot of abuse and neglect and some kids are put in the position where they have to take care of young siblings. There may have been a divorce in the family.
Some don't have anyone to go to for support and they feel very alone. Some don't identify with school or see any relevancy, and they leave. We need to find out all the reasons kids drop out. We need to talk directly to the kids, and not presume to know what the problems are, and try to start supporting them."
The chamber will host a conference Oct. 12 to focus on the drop out issue.
Ouachita Parish Schools Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber plans to invite other superintendents in the state to the conference. He said the drop out problem is something every school district in the state faces today.
"A lot of times folks think we are a very wealthy, upper-crust school system that does not have problems such as drop outs, but we're just like any other school system in the state and nation," Webber said. "We fight this continuously, and it's something that is very serious in our school system, and it's gotten worse in the last few years."
The conference with local educators and other officials will be one of the first steps taken to address the drop out problem regionally.
"With the help of Entergy and Community Trust Bank, we've been able to hire one of the leading facilitators in the country who addresses the drop out problem," Newton said. "So, we'll bring these teachers together, along with the support staff, and start outlining problems, and tell them how they can work with other organizations to create programs of intervention and support."
She hopes other school system officials in the region will participate in the project to determine what help they need to keep their students in school.
"We need to hear from our teachers because they are the ones who face this issue every day," Newton said.
Patti Nelson, CTB's vice president of business development, said the project was important because "the best investment you can make is with your children. That's what will make your community."
Entergy's Kenny Solley added, "We recognize we have a high drop out rate in this area, and there's not really enough being done to address that."
"Hopefully this grant will help the West Monroe chamber and Ouachita Parish School Board with this program and help our teachers identify things that may be causing some problems for our students, or identify students who may be potential drop outs," he said. "That way we can provide a solution hopefully before someone does drop out. There's not any good that can come out of a kid dropping out of school, so we've got to do everything we can to try and keep those students in school."
Newton said the $10,000 grant -- $3,000 from OPSB, $2,000 from CTB and $5,000 from Entergy -- was the largest grant the West Monroe-West Ouachita Chamber has received for a program.