Through a five-year, $14 million high school graduation initiative grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the WCSD has partnered with community agencies to open five re-engagement centers where children can go to fill credit deficiencies and get back on track to graduation.
The centers opened earlier this year at O’Brien Middle School, the Community Assistance Center on Record Street, the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows, The Children’s Cabinet and Sparks High School. In May, WCSD officials began actively looking for students who had become disengaged from school.
“Since that time, we have established relationships with more than 300 children,” said Rechelle Murillo, community engagement administrator.
Of those 300, about 250 are active in the re-engagement program and the remaining 50 are in the process of enrollment, Murillo said.
Murillo said the school district is using various means to find and enlist disengaged students, and then doing whatever it takes to get the children back in school.
“We have a list of kids that have vanished,” Murillo said.
But the district is unsure of exactly how many children in Washoe County have dropped out of school because some of them have likely moved to northern Nevada from out of state.
“I don’t really have a handle on the numbers because we just don’t know,” Murillo said.
According to Frank Selvaggio, director of graduation re-engagement and principal of Washoe High School, the district’s goal is to re-engage at least 2,000 students in five years.
A celebration was held Thursday morning at the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows to commemorate the opening of the re-engagement centers, and several students who enlisted in the program at the beginning of summer spoke about their experiences.
Rubi Jimenez, 16, attended Wooster High School until November, when she dropped out because she was falling behind and her large family needed her help at home. Jimenez said she was excited when a representative from the re-engagement program reached out to her and told her there was a way for her to return to school and earn a high school diploma.
“I wanted to go back,” she said, adding that her mother was surprised because Jimenez hadn’t showed much interest in her education up until that point.
Jimenez said the re-engagement program allows students to catch up on one year of schoolwork in about one month and tutors help keep students focused.
“They even pick you up and drop you off at home,” Jimenez said.
The re-engagement program has given Jimenez the opportunity to do something she didn’t know was possible.
“Now I’m going to graduate,” she said. “I want to go to college and study to become a detective.”
Reno High School student Ana Perez, 17, has earned four credits in one month by attending the O’Brien Middle School re-engagement center.
“I was falling behind on my credits and the O’Brien recovery helped me out a lot,” she said. “A lot of students fall behind and don’t know what to do, so this is helping out a lot.”
Cindy Castro, 18, did not earn enough credits to graduate high school with her class.
“I was going to drop out when I had a specialist call me and say there is another opportunity,” Castro said. “I got a lot of support at the center … now I am going to graduate and I have a whole lifetime of opportunities ahead of me.”
The re-engagement centers will operate year-round, Murillo said, which will allow students to get the help they need during and after each school year. For students who have dropped out of school, the program aims to get them up to speed and back into traditional learning institutions.
Students who need or want extra help from the re-engagement centers can opt to finish their high school education at the center.
“I’m going to finish school here,” Jimenez said.
Murillo said the school district would continue to seek out children who have fallen away from school.
“Our staff is committed to these children,” she said. “We will not give up on them.”
Though the school district intends to continue serving students with re-engagement programs, funding could become unavailable if the federal government decides to cut discretionary spending.
“We are very concerned,” Selvaggio said. “The goal is to make this a self-sustaining system so we don’t have to rely on federal funds.”
Selvaggio said he realizes there is no way the program can be sustained without the support of the community.
“It takes a village,” he said, adding that he hopes community members will think about the cost-benefits of making sure all local children graduate high school ready to enter the workforce or college.
“What is the negative effect if we are unable to get these kids re-engaged?” Selvaggio asked rhetorically. “We know there will be higher crime rates and higher poverty rates. Think about the cost benefits … That’s what’s at stake here.”