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Administrators at Oklahoma City school identify, correct at-risk students

U.S. Grant High School employs four full-time attendance advocates who work to keep students in school.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: February 26, 2012

Reginald Mitchell knows missing school is usually about more than skipping class.

The attendance advocate at U.S. Grant High School works every day to root out the reason seniors aren't in class.

Students battle drug addiction, bullying, dysfunctional homes, absent parents, mental illness and other problems. There's pressure to work and support impoverished families. There's pressure to stay home and watch younger siblings or their own children.

“When these kids don't see themselves or see their future as being successful, it's hard for us to tell them how to get there,” said Mitchell, his eyeglasses tucked into the V of his sweater vest.

U.S. Grant High School employs four full-time attendance advocates, including Mitchell, who work to combat truancy and help students stay on track to graduate. The advocates call home, send letters and track kids down in the hallways. They serve as mentors, coaches and taskmasters.

Attendance has improved every quarter for the past year, Principal Tamie Sanders said. Eventually, that work will show up in the graduation rates.

Spotting a student at risk for dropping out comes down to two things: numbers and intuition.

Educators can use data to spot kids in trouble — absences, discipline write-ups, grades.

But more subtle signs, like dirty clothing or quietness in class, can be red flags as well, Assistant Principal Mary Barrett said.

“You notice changes in kids,” she said.

About 98 percent of students at U.S. Grant High School come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

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