Dropouts rejoin ranks of District 51 graduates

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Joshua Roybal and Jennifer McCullough will not only celebrate their son’s first birthday but also graduation from R-5 High School as part of its key performance dropout recovery program. At the school office, they try on their graduation gowns for commencement exercises, which will be Friday.

Sarah Dell almost didn’t have a senior year.

Dell, an 18-year-old who will graduate from R-5 High School on Friday, dropped out of the school a year ago with plans to get her General Education Diploma, or GED. She was studying for the test in October when an R-5 counselor persuaded her to return to the school.

“I didn’t feel like that was me,” she said of dropping out. “I knew I could do better than that if I had the right program and the right people.”

She needed nine credits to graduate, but the school’s key performance program allowed her to accelerate her senior year with online classes and tests that prove proficiency in a subject within weeks instead of months. The program will graduate 38 students from throughout the district this semester.

Key performance is one of a handful of steps the school district took to decrease its dropout rate, which fell 14 percent year over year to 3.1 percent of the class of 2010. It was a 35 percent decline from 2006, when the key performance program began.

Class of 2011 dropout statistics should be released in January.

Other local dropout-recovery efforts included summer school sessions where high school students can retake parts of classes to get a passing grade and a statewide requirement that all eighth-graders create a plan for taking the right classes to graduate and pursue a degree or career.

The district also introduced Grande River Virtual Academy last fall. It is an online school that started as a way to bring 40 high school dropouts back into the district. It will expand to all grades this fall.

Jennifer McCullough, 18, took advantage of another program that helps students stay in school, the Young Parent Program at R-5. McCullough attended Central High her freshman year and Palisade High for the first half of her sophomore year, but her grades nose-dived when she made the wrong friends at each school. She transferred to R-5, then moved into the Young Parent Program when she had her son, Triston.

This Friday, she’ll celebrate her graduation from R-5’s key performance program, which she joined in November after leaving the Young Parent Program. Three days later, she will celebrate her son’s first birthday along with Triston’s father, fellow R-5 key performance student Joshua Roybal.

McCullough said she worried that she and Roybal, her fiance, wouldn’t make it through school after having a child.

“What kept me going was I’ll be the second one to graduate high school on my dad’s side, and I want my son to graduate and not say, ‘Why do I have to stay in school when you didn’t,’ ” McCullough said.

Roybal said he also wants to make his son proud by graduating this year. Roybal, 19, plans to attend Western Colorado Community College and work on a transportation-services degree this fall. His bride-to-be plans to attend nursing school this fall or next fall at Mesa State College.

Twenty-one-year-old Steven Saltou plans to attend Mesa State as well this fall. The aspiring author and soon-to-be R-5 key performance graduate plans to major in literature and early-childhood education. He wants to earn a master’s degree in literature from a Japanese university and teach English to small children while writing novels.

His education and career goals brought Saltou back to high school after he dropped out as a junior at Fruita Monument High School three years ago. Back then, Saltou said, he didn’t plan to return to school.

“I thought I’d drop out and get a job, but it was harder than I thought it would be,” he said.

Getting the right job should be easier with a high school diploma, Dell said. She will graduate with a 3.9 grade-point average and has been offered scholarships to attend schools in the Denver area. She wants to become a radiologist, something she never thought she could do before.

“It makes you feel good about yourself when you can get a diploma,” Dell said.


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