Pascagoula graduation campaign captures national attention

By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) – Sixty little ones at Jackson Elementary are getting an early Christmas present.  On Monday, each kindergartner at the school got a chance to pick a book and keep it.

"The kids are really happy about this today," Lead Teacher Beth Goff said. "They know they're coming here and they'll receive a book.  They can't wait!"

The book distribution will take place throughout the Pascagoula School District this week.  That means 533 kindergartners will each get to a free book.

"We're wanting to put a book in every kindergartner's hands and bring home, so we can encourage reading in the homes with the families," Goff said.

Promoting literacy at a young age is just one of the components of Destination Graduation. It's a community-wide awareness campaign to reduce the dropout rate and motivate students to stay in school.

When the program started in 2007, the district's graduation rate hovered around 71 percent. Today, it has jumped to 80 percent.

"Our goal is 100 percent. We want to see every child to graduate," Pascagoula School Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said.

Rodolfich created the campaign, which has won three national awards, including the National Dropout Prevention Crystal Star. The campaign has also earned three state awards and a regional honor.

"I just think it's a great community effort," Rodolfich said. "I think it's going great.  But I think it will only thrive if the people stay behind it and the community becomes more involved in it."

And that involvement starts early, by getting students excited about learning.

"It will build their esteem, help encourage them to move forward and do more for themselves," Goff said.  "Because once they realize that they can accomplish that and read, they can do anything."

The Pascagoula School District purchased more than 1,800 books, thanks to a $4,000 Reading is Fundamental Grant.  Other book distributions will take place in February and April of next year.

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