Biloxi task force targets potential dropouts, other at-risk students

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A new task force in the Biloxi School District is targeting children who are at-risk of dropping out and seniors who may not graduate this year. On Wednesday, school leaders and task force members announced some new strategies to help motivate those students to succeed.

"We know that over 50 percent of the people incarcerated in prison are high school dropouts," Biloxi Schools Superintendent Arthur McMillan told a small crowd gathered at Biloxi High School.

Pointing to staggering statistics linking dropouts to higher crime rates and lower incomes, McMillan stressed the need to make sure Biloxi students stay in school.

"We're really targeting right now our high school students, trying to make sure that they have the opportunity to graduate," said McMillan. "We understand we might not reach every child, but it won't be for the lack of effort."

The district's current graduation rate is 84.2 percent, which is higher than the state average. However, district leaders say they won't be satisfied until every senior gets a diploma. This year, they formed "Mission: Graduation," a task force made up of about 30 educators, pastors, police officers, and other community partners.

"We have opened our doors at our church to make sure that our children have the capabilities of coming, be a part of the Internet capabilities that we offer at the church," said Rev. Eric Dickey, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Biloxi. "We've always said it takes a village to raise a child. I have adopted the goal for 2013 that the child is not dropping out, they are dropping in."

"We go knock on doors and try to talk to parents and say, 'What can we do to get your child to school?'" said McMillan.

"These stake holders have joined forces to pool our resources together to try to keep kids in school," said Jermaine Brown, Biloxi Schools Student Services Director.

Biloxi High School has identified some seniors who need mentoring. The Biloxi Police Department will provide free fingerprinting and background checks for volunteers who want to become mentors.  And every school in Biloxi will offer Saturday study sessions to prepare students for state assessments and Subject Area Tests they must pass in order to graduate.

"This Saturday, I'm proud to announce that our teachers voluntarily offered a study day and 150 students attended," said Biloxi High Principal Pamela Manners.

The goal of "Mission: Graduation" is to show students the community cares and is committed to helping them succeed.

"We want every child, when they leave Biloxi High School, with that mission in mind starting in Kindergarten that they're college ready and they're career ready. They will be able to give back to our community," said Biloxi Assistant Superintendent Dr. Janice Wilson.

The task force needs more mentors to work with students. If you'd like to volunteer, contact the Biloxi School District office.

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