RPS launches program to help dropouts get diploma or GED

Ronald E. Carrington | 2/7/2020, 6 a.m.
Battling one of the highest dropout rates in Virginia, Richmond Public Schools is launching a Secondary Success Center to help ...

Battling one of the highest dropout rates in Virginia, Richmond Public Schools is launching a Secondary Success Center to help students who have dropped out return to earn their high school diploma or a GED.

The new program, located at Hickory Hill Community Center at 3000 E. Belt Blvd., will employ a blend of small group and computer-based instruction to assist any city resident age 17 to 21 who has dropped out of high school.

Applications will be taken on a rolling basis for the sessions, the first of which starts 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10, at the center. The second round of classes begins April 15.

Officials said the program is tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual and make participation as convenient as possible through flexible academic programming and scheduling.

“We want to make their course of study very personal,” said Tyra Harrison, RPS’ manager of student support and intervention. “We want to bring students in and hold their hands throughout the process.”

RPS has suffered for several years with one of the highest dropout rates in the state. According to the latest 2019 state Department of Education statistics, 24.4 per of city students, or nearly 1 in 4, drop out before completing high school.

Officials said the center was fashioned after conversations with students who dropped out because the traditional school day and setting doesn’t work. When they tried to go back to school, the same environment didn’t work, Ms. Harrison said.

The effort is “just the beginning of the creative solutions we can find when we listen to our young people, partner with the community and join hands to ensure success for all our students,” said Dr. Tracy Epp, RPS’ chief academic officer.

About 30 people attended Monday’s announcement, including about six former students interested in returning for a diploma, two parents and people from a range of support organizations such as workforce agencies, area community colleges and Virginia Commonwealth University and Centura College.

“We have partners to assist students in networking so they can realize their life’s goals,” Sydney Gunter, RPS’ academic response to intervention coordinator, said in a Free Press interview.

Six teachers, including a special education teacher and an English as a second language teacher, will be involved initially with the program, officials said. A bilingual counselor also will be part of the team.

Students will be supported by counseling services, post-secondary education and career exploration and other measures, officials said.

Students working toward a diploma can take online courses to earn credits toward graduation and to prepare for the state’s required Standards of Learning testing. Exceptional education students may qualify for SOL waivers, officials said, while accommodations also can be made for students for whom English is a second language.

“Our team wants to set the students on a path to do whatever they want to do next,” she said. “When students have the diploma or GED in one hand, they will have a life’s plan in the other.”

Superintendent Jason Kamras said the center is a way of “re-imagining alternative education and eliminating barriers that prevent our students from reaching their full potential.”

He said, “It’s imperative that we meet students where they are and create different pathways for success.”

Interested in the program? Contact the RPS Office of Academic Programs and Support at (804) 780-7797 or by emailing rpssecondarysuccess@rvaschools.net.