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County initiative keeps students on track to graduate
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Stanislaus County Office of Education Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon said that contrary to popular belief, students don’t necessarily drop out in high school. They drop out before they even start school.

“The data is clear that if students are not kindergarten-ready before they start kindergarten, they are at-risk of being a drop out,” said Changnon. “This is not a high school issue. It is vital that this initiative starts in the pre-kindergarten world of parenting and students.”

The current graduation rate is 82 percent in Stanislaus County, which is a number that Changnon is hoping to increase through Destination Graduation.

“Even at 82 percent, there is 18 percent of students who are not walking across that stage and getting that diploma,” said Changnon. “We need to something about that and we are.”

As a county-wide initiative aimed at increasing the graduation rates in Stanislaus County, Destination Graduation  has five main focus areas: sharing of best practices, mentoring programs, Road Trip…Journey to Success, the Parent Awareness/Engagement Campaign and grade level reading.

Pertaining to best practices, Changnon said that the county implemented SCOE’s Come Back Kids program, which is a high school program for adult students who want to come back to complete a diploma or GED.

In its first year, 372 students enrolled in the Come Back Kids program according to Changnon. The following year, a total of 724 students graduated. The oldest graduate was the keynote speaker, who was a 41-year-old mother of three children. She said that she enrolled in the program to show her family and kids that she had value. 

“I’ve talked to hundreds of these students and life just happened to them,” said Changnon. “Some were just eight credits short of a high school diploma, so we have to get them back on track and get them going in the right direction.”

Changnon also urged everyone to become a mentor through one of the County’s mentoring programs, such as Expect More Stanislaus, Mentors-in-Action or the Stanislaus County Employee Mentor Program.

“Young people need mentors and I encourage all of you to get involved in a mentoring capacity of some kind,” said Changnon. “Many of our students come into our classrooms and they’re carrying a lot of baggage. They don’t always have someone in their life to inspire them.”

Road Trip…Journey to Success is a program that creates a community of students that support one another at school while easing through academic transitions from elementary to high school. The program also fosters a student’s desire to participate in their own education and character development.

This summer, the program identified 40 at-risk sixth graders from the Westside of Modesto and Waterford and provided them with a summer experience to prepare and connect them to their junior high and beyond. 

“We told that if they finish these three weeks and they don’t miss one day, they would walk out of there with an iPad Mini that we were able to purchase with a generous $30,000 donation,” said Changnon. “So we had perfect attendance for all 40 students for three weeks.”

Changnon said that Turlock was not involved in this program because the city already has so many programs in place for at-risk students. According to Changnon, the County decided to focus on other communities that did not have similar programs.

Another focus of Destination Graduation is the Parent Awareness/Engagement Campaign, which helps parents identify a number of parenting practices that have been shown to reduce the odds of dropping out of school, such as having high aspirations for their children, monitoring their children’s school progress, communicating with the school, and knowing the parents of their children’s friends.

To uncover many winning solutions to help children read and succeed by third grade, SCOE partnered with the Stanislaus Community Foundation, Stanislaus Library, and the Stanislaus Government to form Stanislaus READS! (Ready, Engaged, Able, Determined Students), which is a multi-agency, multi-year initiative.

Although it is currently not a part of Stanislaus READS!, Changnon commended TUSD for “setting the trend” for to promote grade level reading with the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which is a free children’s book distribution program.  

“This is so that students and families can get books sent to them,” said Changnon. “This Imagination Library is making a difference and I thank Turlock Unified School District and its leadership in the outstanding work that is already being done here.”