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Orange County Focus

WESTMINSTER : Plan Aims at Potential Dropouts

February 19, 1990|GREG HERNANDEZ

When her son, Adam, was about to begin his freshman year at Westminster High School, Jackie Jenkins was wondering if she would ever see him graduate.

The 14-year-old had a dismal academic record in junior high school, and it didn't look like things would be much different once he made the leap to ninth grade.

"His main problem was just plain lack of effort," said Jenkins, the mother of six children, all boys.

Glenda Haffner also had her doubts about her son, Jerry, who had similar problems. She had already seen her older son drop out of school before his senior year and was devastated at the thought of another child doing the same.

Both mothers said they felt helpless and frustrated as they watched their children begin to slip through the cracks of the public education system.

But now, due to the students' participation in a pilot program aimed at preventing them from becoming a dropout statistic, things are looking up.

Both parents now are cautiously optimistic that Adam and Jerry have rebounded and will be wearing graduation caps and gowns in June, 1993.

"Jerry's not making straight A's but he's doing better," Haffner said. "He seems to be more positive about his schoolwork, and I see a spark that wasn't there before."

Adam and Jerry were among 50 students chosen by their eighth-grade teachers to participate in the Positive Learning Units for Students (PLUS) Program. The teachers chose students they believed had the potential to become dropouts due to either low reading skills, problems at home, poor attendance or a pattern of underachievement.

"In a school of 2,300 students, you can become anonymous pretty quickly," said Bonnie Maspero, Westminster High School principal. "Dropout research is showing us that kids need more individual attention as well as different, active learning strategies. Sometimes, when they get into a large school, like ours, they get lost in it."

The program places the freshmen in smaller classes of 25 students where they receive more individual attention. Parents are asked to attend several conferences throughout the year and to monitor at least one hour of homework each night.

"We're trying to train parents to become partners in improving their child's academic skills," Maspero said.

When Maspero assumed her job this summer, her school had the highest dropout rate of the six schools in the Huntington Beach Union High School District. This is attributed to the school's 60% majority of Asian and Latino immigrants, many of whom don't speak English.

The school has averaged a dropout rate of about 10% over the last three years compared to a districtwide average of about 6%.

While some of these students are participants in PLUS, Maspero said there really isn't a typical profile of a potential dropout. Some might be from broken homes, some might struggle with the language, some simply might not try.

So far, the program appears to be a hit with both parents and students.

"The program is wonderful," Jackie Jenkins said. "It's really nice to have the communication with the teachers. They keep in contact with us, and we feel comfortable calling them."

As an added bonus, her son, Adam, is excelling outside of the classroom as well. He played on the football team in the fall and is preparing for the track season where he will compete in the shot put and discus throw.

"I wasn't looking forward to high school because I thought it would be majorly tough," Adam said. "This has made it easier and made me like school better."

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