Ninth-graders, held back, can rejoin class with accelerated study


September 10, 1990|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

It was a message bearing the prospect of hard work -- and many of the students who are repeating the ninth grade at Lake Clifton-Eastern Senior High School applauded when they heard it.

At an opening day address Tuesday, Principal Oscar T. Jobe told students how they can rejoin the Class of 1993 through diligent study, and summer and weekend classes.

Starting next week, the 365 retained freshmen can sign up for courses that will earn them enough credits to join the 11th grade next September.

"The whole idea is to motivate youngsters to want to be successful," Jobe said later in the week. "In many cases, our kids don't get serious until after it's too late."

And Jobe has a second goal in mind: graduating 700 students in the class of 1993, an ambitious target given the fact that more than 35 percent of that class is repeating the ninth grade.

"We had to come up with something that was dramatic to make that happen," said Jobe. "We're trying to find a way to get those youngsters back on track and still protect the integrity of the program."

Throughout the school system, students who fall behind their classmates have the option of making up those classes through weekend or summer school classes and rejoining their peers.

But the Lake Clifton program puts a special organized emphasis on the class of students -- ninth-graders in general -- who are at the greatest risk to be retained or to simply drop out of school.

Last year, for example, 39.5 percent of the ninth-grade class citywide, or 3,034 freshmen, failed to earn the five credits necessary for them to be promoted to sophomore status.

That compares with the next highest ratings of 28.4 percent of sophomores, who didn't go on to their junior year, and 20 percent of the seventh-graders who didn't make it to eighth grade.

School officials say that high school freshmen tend to drop out more frequently than the overall high school dropout rate of 40 percent.

A number of factors combine to make ninth grade a critical year, said Jobe.

For one thing, he said, "you're talking about the adjustment from middle school to senior high school." Many students arrive at high school already having fallen behind academically in the lower grades "and in many cases, they don't make that up."

In addition, he said, students who may have been retained in the lower grades often turn 16 while in the ninth grade -- the age at which they can legally drop out of school.

And he noted that "the kids at this point are far more vulnerable to being influenced by peer pressure" than are high school juniors or seniors.

The effort outlined this week works like this:

Typically, students take six classes in a given year, including four to five academic classes. They must earn at least five credits to be promoted to the sophomore class. Students who earn at least 10 credits are promoted their junior year.

Jobe used the example of a freshman who might have earned just two credits last year. That student would sign up for six credits this year, besides a weekend class and a summer school class.

If the student works hard and passes all of those classes, he would start the 1991 school year with 10 credits -- classifying him as an 11th-grader.

In some special cases, students might be allowed to take a class during a lunch period -- a student who has a child and cannot attend a weekend class, for example.

But in other cases, students will be asked to commit their own free time, and to part with the $75-a-credit fee for a Saturday class or $90 a credit for a summer school class.

Starting this week, students can approach Jobe and the school's guidance counselors to set up a study program, complete with a "contract" spelling out their commitment.

And Jobe said students should have no illusions about the amount of work they will be asked to put in.

"I'm not trying ways to make things easier for kids," he said. "The academic standards of the school will be retained." Students will be required to complete all of the normal academic requirements.

The students will get some help from teachers who have volunteered to coach students at least once a week, as well as from tutors from outside the school. Jobe also expects parents to back their children's efforts.

And while the plan got an enthusiastic effort from students earlier this week, Jobe also is realistic about the number who will follow through.

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