A desperate intervention

Published 8:00 pm Saturday, August 1, 2009

The statistics are disheartening, to say the least. Nearly one in five students who enters the ninth grade in Suffolk Public Schools will not earn a high school diploma. With a dropout rate of almost 18 percent, the city’s school system has little to be proud of when it comes to keeping kids in school.

Even a candidate for lieutenant governor felt compelled on Friday to chide the city for its poor performance in the area of school completion, noting that it’s hard to attract high-paying jobs into an area if the labor force isn’t seen as capable of performing them.

But programs at all three of the city’s public high schools aim to attack the problem of dropouts at a point widely considered to be one of its primary sources — the ninth grade. Studies show that the stress and culture shock that come from leaving the relatively coddled existence of middle school and entering high school — where they are more likely to be given free reign to make their own bad decisions — is just too much for some students to assimilate.

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Students who adapt poorly to their new environment and who fail to develop a reasonable level of self discipline end up doing poorly in the ninth grade. And those who don’t do well in the ninth grade, the studies show, are far less likely to complete high school than those who were able to adapt and learn to be responsible for themselves.

Suffolk’s high schools hope their ninth-grade transition programs help address the problem of culture shock that faces rising freshmen in high school, and administrators claim some success that, they say, simple dropout rates are unable to reflect.

For the sake of this year’s ninth graders — as well as the city’s future economic prospects — citizens should hope the schools’ programs accomplish their goals.