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One important step in the right direction

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Across the nation, approximately 1 million students leave school annually without a diploma.

For these individuals, the outlook can be bleak – students who drop out of school are more likely to experience high rates of unemployment, incarceration or need for public assistance.

Here in Santa Fe, we are committed to never giving up on a single child, and to providing a second chance for our disconnected youth to reclaim their future life and career opportunities with a high school diploma.

Re-engaging at-risk youth is a process that requires persistence, out-of-the-box thinking, and an unwavering commitment to understanding the challenges and needs of each individual student.

While re-engaging at-risk youth is no easy feat, it is the right thing to do for children and will, in the long run, have a positive impact not only on our children’s lives, but also on the social and economic vitality of our community.

Engage Santa Fe is our school district’s innovative and alternative approach to ensuring that every child has access to a high-quality education. The program is a center-based educational alternative program that will support students who have previously dropped out of school or are severely behind in credits and is just one component of a comprehensive plan for expanding options at the secondary level for all of our district’s families. Engage Santa Fe will provide credit recovery, social and emotional support, career counseling and access to additional wrap-around community resources.

An important first step in the re-engagement process is committing, as an educational institution and as a community, to the well-being and academic promise of each and every one of our school-age children.

The next steps will be to initiate a rigorous outreach effort to find those former students who have dropped out of the system or are chronically truant, convince them that it’s not too late to pursue better life opportunities through education, and then support and sustain their engagement with individualized programming.

In Santa Fe, we’ve simply accepted too many dropouts for far too long.

While graduation rates at some schools have improved, the district-wide graduation rate remains below the state average and, with nearly 80 percent of our dropouts leaving within their 9th or 10th grade year, we sought immediate solutions to address this issue.

As a community, we should not be doing the same things over and over, expecting a different result.

Engage Santa Fe is a new program, seeking new results. While some may argue that outsourced solution shouldn’t be utilized, the initial costs and expertise needed to successfully implement these services required a realistic and speedy alternative.

Through a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP), the district solicited persons, organizations and businesses to demonstrate their expertise in providing the needed re-engagement services.

Fortunately for the district, the most competitive bidder took on the start-up costs and risk for implementation of Engage Santa Fe, while the programmatic costs are supported by state and federal funding generated by the increase in enrollment.

The result is a new innovative program with minimal cost to the district, which retains control over monitoring the quality and outcomes of the programs, making this an optimal option for the district.

The development of this engagement center will also result in the creation of a better educated, better skilled workforce, leading to additional local jobs, which is always a win for the community.

Ultimately, recruiting students back to school is the right thing to do and investing in disengaged youth is also an investment in the community.

There is no silver bullet solution to our dropout issue but recognizing that students have varied needs, and providing a diverse set of interventions and supports to address our at-risk students’ academic, behavioral and emotional needs is one important step in the right direction.

Michael Hagele is project manager for iGraduate.

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