For most high school seniors, graduation is just a day or so away. But for other seniors, who were victims of the "dropout season," their day of pomp and circumstance is yet to be seen.
"As kids get closer to graduation, they see they won't graduate, so they give up," said Kathy Hughes, Provo School District special education specialist. "For many, school is painful to them anyway."Hughes, and many other educators who refer to spring as the dropout season, spend a great deal of time working to minimize student failure.
Lee Condie, Nebo School District social worker, said, "When it gets down to this time of year, the weather is warm, they are tired of school, and they see they can't graduate, so they drop out and go to work."
Utah County educators say the dropout rate in Utah Valley is lower than in other areas throughout the country, but they are still troubled by the few students that fail every year.
"We are very concerned," Hughes said. "The nation as a whole is concerned over it - we see it in education literature. It changes the economics and creates a group of haves and have-nots. There is a clear distinction that had not ought to happen in public education."
Condie said a survey conducted by the Nebo district found that it is losing 3 percent to 4 percent of its students. "Taking into account all the programs, that's a pretty good performance actually."
Provo High School Principal Joe Matthews said, "We don't have as many as most schools, but one is too many."
To combat the problem, Provo, Nebo and Alpine school districts provide a number of programs to help these "at-risk" students get high school diplomas. An at-risk student is usually thought of as handicapped, but according to Hughes, any student who for one reason or another is not successful at school is at risk.
"Sometimes kids do things on the basis of emotion. They get mad at a teacher or parents, so they quit," Condie said. "Others mess up and when the counselors tell them they are not on line to graduate. It takes a rigorous schedule to catch up, and some are not willing to do that. Usually a year or two later they enroll in another program."
For students who have difficulty fitting into the traditional high school, Utah County school districts offer a broad range of programs to help students graduate.
These include work-study programs, home-study programs, assisted-study programs, young mothers programs and a high school completion program through concurrent enrollment at Utah Valley Community College.
School districts also offer vocational training for students who are not interested in college but are interested in learning technical skills.
"If they don't achieve in academics, there are ways for them to get class credit," Hughes said. Working with computers or in a wood or auto shop "is more appropriate for some students."
Matthews said, "Public high school is not always for everyone. Some people think that everyone must come out of the same education mold, but some kids don't accept the society there."
And as a last resort, Provo and Nebo have alternative high schools for students to learn basic skills.
"The only kids we aren't able to help are the basically defiant - those who want to do their own thing with no demands," Condie said. "We can keep them in school by truancy laws, but for the older kids that tends to be counterproductive."
Roy Pehrson, Alpine School District attendance coordinator, said the Alpine School District "did away with the alternative high school in 1986 because it didn't work very well. We are reaching a lot more kids through the assisted-studies program."
Before referring students to alternative programs, Alpine makes every effort - such as changing students' classes - to get them back in school. If that fails, they send students to truancy school with their parents for four two-hour sessions, Pehrson said.
"Our effort is to improve attendance and diffuse their anger or bitterness," he said. They also set some goals and learn about meeting commitments.
Hughes said there are two critical ages for students - the transition from sixth to seventh grade and the transition from eighth to ninth grade.
"It is hard for a lot of kids to adjust to the requirements and to have every class count toward graduation," she said. "One miss sets them behind and puts the pressure on, so they drop out. We start losing kids about ninth and 10th grade. If we can keep them until they are juniors, we've usually got them."
A Provo School District task force is looking at the characteristics of students who drop out and the reasons why. They may drop out because of peer pressure or because the school does not meet their needs, but through the task force, the district hopes to develop further plans to keep students in school, Hughes said.
"The social problems in the home and society cause more and more fallout in schools," Condie said. "Sometimes parents are part of the problem because they are not examples of a person who starts something and finishes. There is no model at home."
To monitor student progress and step in when necessary, the three county school districts employ a number of psychologists and school counselors.
"We try to monitor them so that we can intervene when it is appropriate," Hughes said. "We want to make sure they are on-line for graduation."
Ten psychologists work in various schools throughout the Provo School District. At least two counselors work at the district's high schools and one counselor works at the middle schools.
There are two counselors for 1,600 kids at Provo High and, said Hughes, "It's hard for one counselor to keep track of 750 kids."
Nebo has seven psychologists and 12 counselors, two in each high school and one in each junior high and middle school.
Alpine has 12 full-time psychologists and an intern and each person is required to spread his time between three schools.
"They are spread pretty thin, but we have asked for them to provide direct services (ounseling) as well as testing and evaluation," said Loraine Adams, supervisor of elementary special education and psychological services for Alpine.
In addition to the psychologists, each high school and junior high in the Alpine School District has two or three counselors to work with students depending on the school's student population. Counselors work with about 500 to 600 students each.
"It takes a lot of time and personnel to track kids that are so vulnerable to school failure," Hughes said. "They are very busy. In spite of their very best efforts, I'm sure some get missed. Their job is horrendous in terms of the multiplicity they are asked to do."