WDAY: The News Leader

Published August 24, 2010, 08:52 AM

Teachers ready to take on high school dropout problem

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - The first school bell of the year in Fargo will ring in less than 10 hours, but teachers at Fargo North are already poised to tackle a tricky problem: high school dropouts. In the U-S, almost 7-thousand students drop out every day. There is a new curriculum to keep students in school and on track.

37 of the more than one-thousand students here at Fargo North dropped out last year. The highest at the sophomore level, a grade Christensen works with daily, seeing about 150 students in 8 hours, but he says one student leaving is too many.

TRAVIS: "That's the difficult thing, you can't just point to one group and say well here's where we got to focus. It's got to be kind of a global focus."

JAKE PUHL/TEACHER: "They don't fit a certain mold, I mean, lots of students can be considered at risk that you would walk by every day and not even realize it."

9th grade English teacher Jake Puhl teaches students in the "Academy Program." Classes specially designed for those who are at-risk for quitting. He says the key is to keep students coming back, no matter what.

JAKE: "Even if they're in the classroom, doesn't look like they're involved and they're in the classroom, and some of what you're doing is sinking in."

Teachers say identifying these students starts from the very first day of school. From the second they walk in, getting to know them, by asking them questions about their lives and building relationships.

ANDY DAHLEN/FARGO NORTH PRINCIPAL: "Just finding that connection with students."

TRAVIS: "Does everybody have somebody they can talk to? Because one commonality we've kind of found through the dropouts is they're loners."

Teachers will also personalize education to each student: whether it's catering to different learning styles, online classes or night school. Programs that school leaders hope will keep the at-risk, in the classroom until the diploma is in hand. Dahlen says 80 percent of the dropouts at the school last year were boys.