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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 31, 2006

9th-grade focus could stem dropout rate

An unwanted pregnancy. A late-night job. Peer pressure.

Those are the lifestyle issues that can get in the way of a teenager's main job: schoolwork.

And when such outside forces make school seem irrelevant, teens are dropping out in alarming numbers.

The DOE estimates that statewide nearly 15 percent of high school students drop out, a number that could be as high as 8,700 students from the last five graduating classes.

And as reported by Advertiser Education reporter Beverly Creamer, typically the turning point is the ninth grade.

During that year, students find themselves facing a more difficult high school-level curriculum and the challenges of typical teenage social development that make staying in school a struggle.

To reverse the dropout trend, the DOE must focus on the ninth-grade transition year.

A few high schools are concentrating on alternatives to keep kids interested in school, such as an off-campus cooking class at Farrington High school. It underscores that a comprehensive public education doesn't always mean a curriculum geared to college prep academics. Providing vocational training that taps into students' interests and passions could put them on a more suitable path and reverse the discouraging dropout trend.

Schools should also explore the value of small-group learning environments, which can be more supportive for students who might otherwise get left behind.

We should be doing all this and more to address the dropout rate that begins in this crucial ninth-grade year.