On Monday, 8th graders at Gulfport Central Middle School spent the afternoon, practicing for their first ever graduation ceremony. Sadly, for various reasons, 25 percent of Gulfport students never make it this far.
"It has increased over the years," said Margaret Hopper. "We don't see it as a serious problem, but the fact that we have one student that's not a completer, with a diploma or GED, that is serious to us."
Margaret Hopper is helping to develop a new "Drop-Out Prevention Plan" for the Gulfport School District. One step is to form partnerships with colleges.
"We're working at the community college to look at getting a link with some vocational experience for them," Hopper said. "We're working with different businesses and industries that would really like to have these kids as completers in their work program."
The school district is also in the process of converting a house into a special center - away from the schools. It's a place where at-risk students can go to get one-on-one counseling and tutoring.
"We're going to have an after-school program for 7th and 8th graders in our middle schools to give them a different atmosphere, a different staff, different teaching strategies, to work with them in small groups in Reading and Math," Hopper said.
And the school district will not wait until the high school level to identify students who qualify for the GED program.
"I will also be probably working with students in the pre-GED," said GED Instructor Bill Riffle. "They are the ones that we identify that are going to need help in specific areas, to stay on the graduation track."
"They want to feel success," Hopper said. "They want to be able to say 'look what I've done', and that's what we want to do for them."
If the Gulfport School Board adopts the plan, it will go into effect this fall. The Mississippi Department of Education has its own guidelines to cut the drop-out rate, including starting a public relations campaign and refocusing the roles of school attendance officers.