BERLIN — Flexible programs and support tailored to the individual student are the main reasons why Worcester County constantly sports some of the lowest drop-out and highest graduation rates in the state, according to County Coordinator for Drop-out and Recovery Diane Stulz.
According to Stulz, Worcester public schools only had a drop-out rate of 6.68 percent in 2010, which fell to 6.42 percent in 2011. The “acceptable” drop-out rate in the state is considered to be 13 percent. Worcester also boosts the second-highest on-time graduation rate in Maryland, second only to Carroll County.
While the numbers are good, the most important part, said Stulz, is that they’re consistent.
“We expect every student to graduate,” she said.
For several years, Worcester has placed in the top five for on-time graduations, said Stulz. A lot of this she believes comes from the lengths that the school system is willing to go to keep students on track.
“It’s a variety of services that we offer to students,” said Stulz.
Students are able to review classes that they have failed, which they can then pass in an abbreviated amount of time, assuming that they pass all required tests. The county also tries to facilitate students who have part-time jobs.
Instead of making students choose between working or continuing their education, Stulz said that Worcester’s policy is to help them achieve both. Through Workforce Investment Act grants, schools are able to provide things like work uniforms, transportation, or tools, among other things.
“We can help them with employment,” said Stulz.
The school can help find employers with flexible schedules that allow students to continue on at school while working part-time. And if a situation can’t be finessed with scheduling during the day, Stulz pointed out Stephen Decatur High School (SHDS) offers a lot of night courses.
Also related to employment, the Worcester County Technical High School (WCTHS) has been a valuable tool in encouraging high school graduation while simultaneously allowing students to train for prospective careers, said Stulz.
Afterschool programs are another stop-check used to address potential drop-outs. Stulz noted that students who are lagging behind in classes and possibly feeling discouraged are able to come to afterschool academies where they can work in small groups or one-on-one with a teacher to develop an understanding of a concept.
“There’s a different relationship development [after school] than what’s in a classroom,” said Stulz.
Even if no alternative can be found and a student does decide to drop-out, Worcester keeps the door open in hopes of a return.
“You can always come back to school,” Stulz promised.
The traditional high school program can be completed by anyone up to 21 years old, which means that if a student drops out for a few months or even a couple of years they can return to the building and enroll in regular classes. If a student takes a longer hiatus, Stulz explained that a General Educational Development (GED) degree can be earned at any point in life through Worcester public schools.
“Our GED program is very good,” Stulz promised.
According to Stulz, no one program is responsible for Worcester’s success; instead it’s a collective effort coupled with the awareness shown by teachers and faculty to spot at-risk students before they slide too far. The way Stulz puts it, students don’t drop-out, they “fade-out.”