No excuse good enough to cop out on education

Students in Jessica Lipson’s ninth grade math class at the Fruita 8/9 School watch President Obama urge them to work hard in school this year during a televised speech.

The odds of dropping out of school and “into a good job” aren’t favorable, President Barack Obama said in his televised address to schoolchildren Tuesday.

Dropping out and finding a bad job isn’t likely in today’s economy either, said Donna Whetstone, coordinator of the state-funded School to Work Alliance Program in Grand Junction. The program helps people ages 16 to 25, many with learning, physical or developmental disabilities, find jobs.

“I agree 199 percent that kids who don’t have a high school diploma or a GED are having a heck of a time finding a job right now,” Whetstone said.

The president told students across the nation to stay in school and take responsibility for their journey to graduation. No matter the career goal, an education will be required, he said. And no excuse is good enough.

“At the end of the day, the circumstances of your life — what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home — that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude,” Obama said. “That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school.

That’s no excuse for not trying.”

Homeless students, kids learning English as their second language, teenagers raising or carrying children, and students who have trouble succeeding in a traditional classroom have all found help pushing through tough times to reach graduation with specific School District 51 programs.

The district has a part-time progress monitor at each middle school and the equivalent of two full-time monitors at each high school. Monitors help find which students are most at risk to drop out of school based on their grade point average, test scores and other factors and immediately guide them to programs and extra learning opportunities on or before the first day of high school, said Bill Larsen, District 51 executive director of high schools.

“We’re trying to get to them before they get so discouraged there’s no light at the end of tunnel,” Larsen said. “We know students really start dropping out in fourth or fifth grade, emotionally.”

The district has graduated 43 students in the past four years through the key performance program.

Larsen said the program helps students who may otherwise drop out complete portfolio projects and teacher-guided online classes in order to show they have a 12th-grade level of knowledge, rather than completing the usual 25 credits required to graduate.

Students also have online, night school, and alternative-school options.

These programs and others have helped dropout rates decrease from 4.6 percent for the class of 2007 to 4.3 percent for the class of 2008, Larsen said.

The president encouraged students to stay in school not only for their own sake, but also for the sake of solving problems plaguing those around them.

“If you quit on school, you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country,” Obama said.

The president encouraged students to try new activities and classes in order to find out which career best suits them. District 51’s School-To-Career program places students in internships and job-shadowing opportunities to help that process.

One Grand Junction High School student found internships in firefighting and event planning through the program.

In the end, she discovered firefighting suited her best, said Terri Smatla, community partnership coordinator for the District 51’s School-To-Career program.

“It helps students find the path that specializes in their area of interest,” Smatla said.


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