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December 6, 2004

Terryville High classes shedding students

By Stefan Koski

Something is amiss at Terryville High School .

Its classes run like clockwork, its teachers are on time and grades are promptly distributed.

But why are its classes shrinking?

Although it may not be obvious at first, the number of students who start freshman year and the number of students who show up for graduation differ greatly.

Some, including the class of 2004, lose as much as 30 percent of their students. Other classes typically lose between 12 and 16 percent of their students during the four years of high school.

Where are all of these kids going?

The numbers tell an interesting story.

The Terryville High School Statistics for Disenrollment show that out of the 124 students who left school between 2001 to 2004, 41 percent are moving, either out-of-town or out-of-state.

Another 23 percent transferred to a different school, including the Bristol and Oliver Wolcott technical schools, St. Paul ’s Catholic High School or Holy Cross High School in Waterbury .

But the most noteworthy of the statistics is the third category — the 21 percent who drop out completely. The national average is 10.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Terryville High School Principal Andrea Lavery said she believes that kids who are quitting school have any combination of family issues at home, a lack of motivation or support, discipline problems that have never been addressed or a general lack of success that has plagued them throughout their academic careers.

“You rarely find an A-B student that goes to failing,” she said.

Lavery said there are several reasons kids drop out.

“There are some that don’t fit into a traditional high school, but there aren’t any alternative schools,” Lavery said.

She said that Terryville’s small size and even smaller budget don’t offer many options for students who are on the verge of dropping out.

A staff meeting handout entitled “Strategies and Programs Implemented to Address THS Drop-out Rate” noted that the Tunxis alternative high school and the Phoenix Program, both of which aided the “struggling” or “non-traditional student,” have been discontinued recently.

A number of new ideas have been introduced to try to stem the exodus of non-traditional students.

“What we’re really trying to do is get to students during their freshman year,” Lavery

said, explaining how a new mentor program at Terryville High School is being utilized to assist students.

“We really want ninth grade kids to understand that homework, participation and attendance are really important in being successful in high school,” Lavery said.

The mentor program has had some success.

While last year’s freshman class had 75 students (43 percent of the class) failing one or more subjects, this year’s freshman class only had 26 failing (17 percent).

The school has tried other tactics, such as Saturday detentions and a freshman parents’ night hosted by the guidance department, to reduce the number of students who might drop out.

Lavery said other steps are possible.

“We are investigating some kind of summer school here instead of Bristol ,” she said. “The typical summer school student is a freshman or sophomore who can’t drive. How are they supposed to get there?”

Even though there are many in-house solutions to the declining class sizes in Terryville, the problem of not having many outside alternatives remains.

Other than the Bristol Technical School and adult education programs, there isn’t much for students who are looking for other options to get through high school.

“The only magnet school that we’ve sent students to is the Arts and Music Magnet School in Waterbury, but that’s not going to attract the disenfranchised student,” Lavery said.

Indeed, there seems to be little for the “disenfranchised” and “disenchanted” students of Terryville High School .

But preventing students from dropping out is always going to be hard.

“Kindergarten teachers always tell me that they can look at their kindergarten class and can tell who won’t be successful in ninth grade,” Lavery said.

 


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