A group of 40 volunteers led by Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 Superintendent Cynthia Wilson went door-to-door throughout the South Carolina district Saturday in search of high school students who have yet to show up to class this school year.
According to WIS-TV, Wilson launched the “Reach Out for Dropouts” program two years ago in an effort to attract students back to school so that they could finish their education and graduate.
Saturday, 40 volunteers divided into teams in pursuit of 35 absent students — two of whom are in middle school. In July, a report by PBS's Frontline examined the work of Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Robert Balfanz, whose research suggests there is a key period in middle school that determines whether a student will eventually drop out.
District Dropout Prevention Coordinator Watson Cleckley explained to the station that it’s important he and his colleagues don’t waste a lot of time because as time passes, “it gets harder and harder to catch up.”
One mother who answered the door for Wilson on Saturday said her daughter is behind in her grade level and is considering a GED. The superintendent explained that students in the district have options, including evening or online courses to get caught up.
"Just give us another opportunity," Wilson told the mother. "We hope we'll see her Monday morning."
Saturday’s efforts appeared to yield some success, as school officials told WIS-TV six students re-enrolled and would return to class Monday.
Orangeburg isn't the first to embark on this task. As the national high school graduation rate improved modestly this year, the Clark County School District of Las Vegas, for one, had created the "Reclaim Your Future" program, which sends school employees and community volunteers door-to-door also to persuade dropouts to return to school.
The Associated Press reports that Orangeburg’s dropout rate is 2.5 percent, slightly below the state’s average of 3 percent.
Under a bill advanced in March by a state Senate committee, South Carolina teens who drop out of school or skip too many classes would lose their driving privileges until they turn 18. The proposal must still go to the Senate floor for a vote, and if approved would take effect August 2013. According to the bill’s main sponsor, Republican state Rep. Tom Young, the move aims to curb the state’s dropout rate.