New efforts to reel in students who have left the public education system are sprouting in Pierce County’s two largest school districts.
Both Tacoma and Puyallup are launching new initiatives to re-engage dropouts.
And in Puyallup, a new program called the Puyallup Parent Partnership Program, or P4, is aimed at homeschool families. It will offer part-time instruction and money to help families purchase homeschool books and other materials.
Both efforts stem from state legislation that gives school districts the tools and money to identify students who have left and bring them back into the fold.
Mary Jo Harvey is the new director of homeschool and continuing education programs in Puyallup. She comes from the Meridian School District in Bellingham, where she ran a parent-partnership program for homeschool families. She’ll oversee both the dropout re-engagement program, called Open Doors, and the P4 homeschool partnership.
In Tacoma, Greg Eisnaugle, former co-principal at Lincoln High School, will direct the new student re-engagement center aimed at dropouts. The center is scheduled to open Sept. 4 at 1818 Tacoma Ave., in a building formerly used by Tacoma School of the Arts.
According to state statistics, more than 14,000 students in Washington dropped out of high school in the 2010-11 school year. That’s the equivalent of 78 kids each school day.
Both the Puyallup and Tacoma dropout re-engagement programs will serve students ages 16 through 20.
Eisnaugle said he has a list of about 1,200 Tacoma youth who qualify. Harvey said Puyallup has identified 1,300 former students who are eligible.
Their challenge now is to contact these young people and persuade them to drop back into their programs, which are designed not to resemble a traditional high school or even an alternative school. These students have likely struck out in both environments.
Harvey said Puyallup is still finalizing its location for the program.
“It’s going to be a storefront, and on a bus line, so it’s easy for kids to come,” she said. “We want a friendly, welcoming environment.”
Eisnaugle has the same idea for Tacoma.
“We want the experience to be extremely different from a comprehensive high school,” he said.
Curriculum will be largely online but with on-site support from certificated teachers. There also will be graduation specialists who can help each returning student devise an individual plan to meet requirements needed to earn either a high school diploma or a GED high school equivalency credential. Tacoma is contracting with Goodwill to operate the GED portion of the program.
In Puyallup, Harvey said, students will be able to earn either a GED or finish high school with extra support. Her program will also use online curriculum, but students also will have to put in face time with teachers.
Both Puyallup and Tacoma have designed their programs around student schedules, with morning and afternoon sessions. In addition, Tacoma will offer evening sessions from 5 to 8 p.m.
Kids quit school for many reasons, Eisnaugle said.
“Most kids drop out not for school-related reasons, but from all the other stuff: They are homeless, they need a doctor. Some are bored. Others have learning disabilities that are not currently being met.”
That’s why the Tacoma program also will offer help for non-academic problems. The downtown facility has invited community organizations to provide counseling for substance abuse and mental health issues, or find resources for homeless students.
Puyallup’s P4 program is designed to work with homeschool families. Parents remain the students’ primary educators, but they will be able to work with certificated teachers to design classes, write goals and choose curriculum.
The district will offer families up to $400 to purchase district-approved educational materials.
Students also will be invited to enroll in small classes with other homeschool families, Harvey said. She said classes might include art, music, science, or a math or writing workshop.
“We want to offer a continuum of services,” she said. “We want parents who would like to be more involved in their child’s education to have that opportunity, but not have to give up all public support.”