Principal Jake Heibel

Great Mills High School principal Jake Heibel

Students in Maryland turning 17 on or after July 1 can no longer drop out of school before the age of 18.

Leonardtown High School Principal Mike Watson said in February a student and his or her parents have to file paperwork for the student to leave school as a minor. “Before it was 16, [then] 17 and now it’s 18,” he said of the dropout age. “Not before their senior year [can] a student opt to withdraw or drop out.”

There aren’t many students wanting to fill out the paperwork, he said.

These changes were passed into law by the Maryland General Assembly in 2012, according to a release from St. Mary’s public schools. Many states have already increased the age of compulsory attendance to 18, and the intent of the policy change is to reduce the number of students dropping out of high school and increase the number of high school graduates.

The only exceptions are students enrolled in a nonpublic school or home instruction, according to the release.

Great Mills High School Principal Jake Heibel said in an email that it is difficult to tell what impact the change has at this point on the graduation rate.

“We have been working under this notion for the most part in anticipation for this change in the compulsory age to 18 for the past couple of years,” he said. “In terms of the graduation rate whether they drop out early or fail to graduate on time, it counts as the same in terms of the graduation rate.”

Social and home issues can contribute to students withdrawing from public schools, Watson said. “They can get their GED,” he said. “Maybe they’re going into an apprenticeship or want to start their career a lot sooner.”

School staff try to talk students into getting their high school diploma because it affords the students more opportunities in the future, such as seeking additional education, he said.

Some “kids just don’t like school,” Watson said. “We do our best to make sure they like school. It takes a village to raise a child. It’s community, parents, teachers, everyone together trying to make sure their kids get high school diplomas and prepare them to help us in the long run.”

Heibel said a variety of interventions are available to help students avoid dropping out such as creative schedules, use of online learning, after school tutoring and pupil services team meetings to discuss alternative placements.

Fairlead Academies I and II are options for students seeking a smaller class setting and more one-on-one time with educators, Watson said. Having to attend a school with 1,900 or more students can be overwhelming, and “sometimes social issues and anxieties occur with kids,” he said. “They get more face time with instructors” at Fairlead, and “they help roughly 200 kids a year between the two programs,” Watson said.

Students can also recover class credits with APEX, an online program where students earn points to redeem the credit and “remediate any of the information they missed,” he said.

Fifty-two students of an adjusted four year cohort, or class size, of 1,218 high school graduates in 2016 were reported as having dropped out of St. Mary’s public high schools, according to the Maryland State Report Card.

Heibel said the drop-out rate is something to be concerned with, and “it is important for us to be able to identify each student who has dropped out and the reasons why so that we can better address the concerns. … Unfortunately in some cases the reasons have nothing to do with the school or academic abilities.”

Watson said a student’s ninth-grade experiences often determine if they withdraw or make it to graduation.

“Typically freshmen have a very hard time transitioning to high school,” he said. Going from middle school to high school is “a totally different culture. They’re given a lot more freedoms, but the expectation is a lot higher, too, as far as homework” and their study habits, Watson said. “The importance of growing up and being responsible for their own lives, education grades and decisions comes on you very quickly,” he said.

He said motivation can come from a variety of influences, both internal and external. “It starts with the student, it starts at home,” he said. Watson said having a role model at the high school, such as coaches and teachers, may help a student with their path to graduation. “Our teachers are not just teachers,” he said. “They are sponsors and mentors. They do so much work with kids outside of school hours I think anyone could find a connection … You’d be hard pressed to find someone you couldn’t relate to here, unless you didn’t want to.”

For more information, contact the department of student services, at 301-475-5511, ext. 32150.

Twitter: @JacquiEntNews

Twitter: @JacquiEntNews