The drumbeat of voices encouraging students to stay in school has been an incessant sound in our collective psyche for many years now.
But in North Carolina, the message hasn’t always gotten through. Too many people have decided they could make their way in the world without completing high school and gaining some measure of education that would benefit them in the future.
And, so it is a good thing to hear that dropout rates in Johnston County – and across the state – dropped last year.
In Johnston County, the decrease included 54 fewer students quitting school than in the year before.
To be sure, some portion of that is related to factors such as students finally understanding that long-spoken message that a person’s future is much brighter with a high schol diploma than without. And, we are certain some small number may have opted to stay in school because the prospect of gainful employment is not strong in today’s economy.
But we would be foolish to believe that the decrease in dropouts is merely an environmental change.
Johnston County has put significant resources into its dropout prevention efforts. Rather than just tasking already-overworked guidance counselors with the job of convincing little Johnny or Sally to stay in school, Johnston County has said it must devote people to the effort full time. They have placed dropout prevention coordinators in each high school and they have since expanded that program into the middle schools where the seeds of quitting are often planted.
Those people have an opportunity to forge relationships with students who may contemplate dropping out of school and they have a better chance of changing those students’ minds than if they were simply some bureaucrat sitting in a central office, sending out letters and making the occasional home call.
Make no mistake. There remains a lot of work to do to get the number of dropouts even lower. 249 dropouts last year very likely means 249 future families destined for a life of public assistance with little or no opportunity to break that cycle.
Still, the numbers are encouraging. They will be even more encouraging if the rate decrease becomes a trend over time.