Tuesday, April 24, 2012 | 2 a.m.
A Clark County School District program aimed at getting dropouts to return to school is proving somewhat successful — at least among those students whom officials were able to persuade to get back into the classroom.
The Reclaim Your Future program, launched this year under the leadership of new Superintendent Dwight Jones, was part of the district’s unprecedented effort to increase its abysmal high school graduation rate. In 2011, fewer than half of the state's seniors graduated from high school. Clark County is the largest school district in the state.
Reclaim Your Future sought to change the lives of the hundreds of high school students who disappear from classrooms each year.
At the start of the year, school counselors and attendance officers called homes, tracking down more than 1,000 dropout students and bringing them back to school. Later in the year, the School District — in conjunction with various community partners — began a mentorship program at 10 high schools to help struggling students progress toward graduation.
The signature event and cornerstone of the Reclaim Your Future initiative were two community walks, one in the fall and the other last winter. About 300 school and community volunteers visited the homes of dropout students on a Saturday morning in September and January.
School officials and volunteers encouraged students to stay in school and sought commitments from students to return to campus. At the time, officials heralded the number of commitments they received as a testament to the success of the inaugural initiative.
However, the true measure of success, critics said, lies in the number of students who actually honored their promise to return to school and followed through.
Most of the dropout students who committed to returning to school as part of the Reclaim Your Future walks still remain in school, according to School District officials. However, the vast majority of dropouts could not be reached and did not commit to return to school, officials said.
During the first community walk in September, officials targeted 289 at-risk seniors who dropped out of school. Volunteers were able to get commitments from 28 students, of which 22 returned to school the following week. As of last week, 17 of those students remain in school, district officials said.
During the second community walk in January, officials targeted 346 at-risk juniors and seniors who either dropped out or had high absences. Volunteers were able to get commitments from 59 dropouts, of which 49 are still attending school.
Volunteers also reached out to 135 students who had excessive absences, of which 120 students remain in school.
Despite the mixed results, School District officials said the walks were an important first step toward reaching out to struggling students discouraged by falling behind and overwhelmed by the amount of work they needed to do to catch up.
It gave educators and community members a chance to visit their students’ homes and provide outreach and support to students and family members who in previous years fell through the cracks, officials said.
“The walk and work is worth the effort when students reclaim their future and start to believe that they can achieve again,” said Penny Ramos-Bennett, a School District spokeswoman. “Our ultimate goal for the effort is to no longer need to walk and reclaim students because our students will be in school.”