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Making the grad: Local districts focus on student involvement to keep graduation rates up

He said the program targeted 80 students who struggled through the eighth grade, and put a team made up of a social worker and special education and subject teachers to help those kids continue on into their junior and senior years of high school.

He said the program works quietly but effectively.

"What we do is low key. We don't want the kids to feel like we're singling them out."

The team will focus on the at-risk students and encourage them to participate in extracurricular activities, school activities and focus on career development as early as possible.

McGrath said if students get excited about a career early on, it will keep them interested in their education. It is important, he said, to start targeting kids while they are still in middle school and get students excited about education.

The program is new, but McGrath said the district is very confident in its success so far.

"I think we're going to see some real improvement over the next few years," he said.

He said, unofficially, that he is expecting the five-year 2003 graduation rate in Mohonasen High School to be at 87 percent, a significant jump from past years, largely due to the new program.

Bethlehem Central School District, where 90 percent of its 439-member 2003 four-year cohort graduated, ranked fourth among the three counties, although that number is down 6 percentage points from 2001. The district is also moving toward a more engaging approach, as well as targeting problem students early.

"We are building support from the elementary level up," said Jody Monroe, assistant superintendent for the district.

"We're trying to work collaboratively with parents. We want to keep the kids in school. Keep them engaged in school. The kids see a value in education that comes from the parents."

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