HAVERHILL — Denisse Baez said without programs like night school at Haverhill High, several of her friends would have quit long ago.
They would have joined former students who have kept Haverhill's dropout rate at nearly double the state average for the last five years.
The night school and other programs aimed at keeping potential dropouts in school will reach out to more students because of a federal grant announced yesterday. The grant total can reach $4 million in the next five years, school officials said.
City and school leaders gathered in front of Haverhill High School to announce that Haverhill is the only community in the state to win such a federal grant.
The school will get $760,000 this year under for its Youth Engaging for Success, or YES program. The grant targets students who failed either English or two or more subjects in the previous year, have more than 15 days absent and multiple suspensions, and fail to make sufficient progress in English as a Second Language.
If Haverhill can show it is making progress, it will get an additional $838,000 next year, and $831,000 each year for the following three years for a total of more than $4 million, school officials said.
"A lot of my friends are still in school because of the night school program," Baez, a Haverhill High senior, said when the grant was announced. "Some of them were failing, they were getting older and didn't want to get up in the morning. But they still wanted to graduate and not be a failure."
She said her friends are now getting A's and B's and are on the road to completing high school.
"Night school also helps avoid the drama of daytime school," she said.
Haverhill wrote a grant application that showed the need for help because of the city's high dropout rate, but also demonstrated the success some programs are having here, school officials said.
They said the grant will help expand programs that contributed to lowering the high school's dropout rate from 7.2 percent during the 2007-2008 school year to 5.2 percent last year, which is about double the state average. Those programs include after-school help to students who fell short of the credits they needed to graduate and were about to give up.
The money will allow the high school to expand programs such as the night school, as well as provide tutoring to middle-school students at risk of dropping out. Outreach workers will establish relationships with the students' families.
More vocational classes; focus on freshmen
Haverhill's YES program aims to build on programs school officials said are working. They include vocational offerings such as carpentry classes to maintain a student's interest in school and cloistering repeat freshmen in a classroom where teachers come to them.
"Dropouts are an issue to all schools, particularly to urban schools, and I think we have the leadership in place at the high school, and a talented faculty to make a meaningful and strategic attack on the dropout issue," said interim Superintendent James Scully.
The money will allow Haverhill to create a summer school to help struggling eighth-graders make a smooth transition to high school.
The money also will enable the high school to add staff so that more students can participate in programs such as the Success Academy, where currently 20 repeat freshmen spend the school day in the same classroom. The program will expand in January to as many as 50 students, who will get first crack at the school's expanded vocational program, including wood shop, technology, cooking/nutrition and child care.
"By keeping them in one room and bringing the teacher to them, we avoid their getting into trouble wandering the building," Principal Bernie Nangle said. "We've stopped the roaming."
The high school's Jobs for Bay State Grads — which provides students with workplace skills such as career decision making, resume writing and field trips to work sites — will now be offered to freshmen, sophomores and juniors, in addition to seniors.
"We could only do this (in the past) with seniors, and by that time we may have lost other kids," Nangle said. "Basically, we have kids who are disenchanted they didn't get into Whittier Tech," he said of the regional vocational school.
Night school to double in size
The night school, which serves 18 juniors and seniors, will nearly double in size because of the grant. Starting in January, it will be open to freshmen and sophomores who are in a situation where they can't attend day classes, such as a student who must care for a child while their parents are at work.
"This gets kids re-engaged, back on a track to success and brings them back to the day program if possible," Nangle said.
The high school's credit recovery program will expand too and offer math, science and history in addition to English. Nangle said the grant will allow him to hire a computer teacher, who will run a computer lab where students can make up credits they missed.
U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas was at Haverhill High yesterday to announce the grant.
Haverhill High Associate Principal Beth Kitsos credited several people for helping the high school win the money.
She said Euthemia Gilman, principal of Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School, told her about the grant early this summer. That resulted in forming a grant-writing team that included retired Haverhill High math department head Bethe McBride and Tina Fuller, director of the district's after-school Discovery Club, Kitsos said.
"We had been chipping away at our dropout rate, but this gives us money to expand programs and offer them to more kids," Kitsos said. "And it allows us to go to the middle schools and get to kids earlier. We're still almost double the state dropout rate, and the goal is to get that down."
• • •
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.