The Omaha Public Schools, hoping to lure back students who have dropped out, opted out or sidestepped a traditional high school education, held a re-enrollment fair Tuesday to help students get back on track to earn their diploma.
Representatives from each of OPS's five Multiple Pathways programs were on hand to help students figure out which program would help them finish high school, from flexible independent studies to an accelerated credit program that currently has a waiting list of more than 300.
There's no set profile for a kid who's dropped out, according to Multiple Pathways program director Shari Koch. Some get defensive or frustrated after being disciplined or suspended and simply don't come back to school.
Some become teen moms or dads and drop out to take care of their kids. Some have substance abuse problems that caused them to miss too many classes, while others need to work full-time to support their families.
“Sometimes young people don't know who to go to, or it seems too strange to walk through their high school doors right now,” Koch said. “They know things are well under way by now, and can they even get credit anymore? But many people are not aware of the Multiple Pathways programs OPS has developed to try and serve students.”
Attendance was light at the re-enrollment fair. Koch said the district might try sending letters next year to households where kids have dropped out or haven't shown up the first few weeks of school.
By midway through the afternoon, three students had signed up for a Multiple Pathways program.
“We got these kids enrolled in school,” Koch said. “They're coming tomorrow.”
More than 700 students are enrolled in one of the Pathway programs, and 275 students graduated last year.
“That's a high school,” Koch said.
Bryan High School junior Grace Pignotti is still enrolled in school. But she finds the pace too slow and wants to find a way to graduate earlier so she can start taking college classes in either prelaw or criminal justice.
“High school's not fast enough,” she said. “I'd prefer to get to college and get started with my career.”
She met with counselors who explained her options, including programs like the UNO/OPS Middle College, designed for fast-learners and high achievers who can earn college credits at the University of Nebraska at Omaha while finishing high school, and Gateway to College, which allows students to take both high school and college-level courses at Metropolitan Community College.
Other Pathway programs include the independent study option, which allows students to chip away at their credit requirements one at a time, through either online or traditional classes.
The Accelere option, the one with the massive waiting list, offers intensive four-hour classes that let students complete a class requirement in just three weeks.
Today marks the five-year anniversary of the Accelere program, which evolved from a $2 million federal stimulus allocation to increase graduation rates and decrease dropouts. In 2012, OPS had a graduation rate of 75.5 percent, up from five years earlier but still below the state average of 87 percent.
Jacqueline Washington, the Multiple Pathways assistant director who helms the independent study and night school programs, said the flexibility those programs offer is bringing back more students who want to complete their education.
“We're proud of our work,” she said. “We're always reaching out, we're always making phone calls to kids we haven't seen in awhile: 'Get in here. We have a diploma for you.'”