School District Helps Dropouts Pick Up Where They Left Off

Times Staff Writer

In the late 1960s, Helena Hackett dropped out of Los Angeles' Roosevelt High School to have some fun.

"It was the era. It was the '60s. I was just being a kid. It was more fun to do other things than go to school," said Hackett, 35, a single mother from Long Beach with a 17-year-old son.

A waitress and bartender, Hackett has been unemployed since early last year after her leg was hurt in an automobile accident. She receives disability insurance.

Maria Guerrero, 33, also dropped out of school in the 1960s and got married in her native Chihuahua, Mexico, before coming to California in 1973.

Unable to Work

More than a year ago, while working as a shipping and receiving clerk at a furniture manufacturing plant, Guerrero slipped on wet pavement, injuring her back.

Unable to work since the accident, Guerrero, a divorcee who lives in Carson, has had to support her two children on welfare payments.

Connie Albright, who dropped out of the 11th grade at Holtville High School in Deatsville, Ala., in 1983, did so because she "fell in love and lost interest in studying."

Today, Albright, who is a single parent living in Artesia, supports a 2-year-old daughter with welfare payments.

These women from different backgrounds have common goals: to get a high school diploma and better jobs.

Last week, they joined more than a thousand dropouts around the state who dropped in to nearby adult schools to resume their educations.

'Drop-in Day'

The three women went to the adult school at ABC Unified School District in Cerritos to participate in "Drop-in Day for Dropouts," organized by the Consortium for Adult Education.

The consortium is an organization of mostly Northern California school districts, administrators and teachers determined to do something about the state's alarming drop-out rate, said Bob Bestor, a consultant for the consortium, which is based in Hayward, Calif.

The group decided to have a day across the state, Bestor said, "to raise the public awareness of adult education. We wanted a day where a person could drop in without an appointment, discover what adult education was offering and sign up to go back to school."

It was the consortium's first attempt to bring statewide attention to the problem of dropouts. Bestor estimated that about 1,000 dropouts took part.

The group's effort to reach dropouts stems, Bestor said, from a recent report by the Assembly Office of Research. The 112-page report revealed some startling statistics about the state's drop-out problem, which, it said, crosses all ethnic and geographic barriers.

3 Out of 10 Don't Graduate

Using the graduating class of 1983 as a base, the report says that three out of 10 students who entered ninth grade in California did not graduate.

Of the estimated 98,000 dropouts from the class of 1983, only 38,000 later received a diploma or went to trade school or community college.

California's drop-out problem is more severe than the national problem, according to the Assembly report. In 1980, the report says, 74% of all 17-year-olds in the United States had a diploma while only 64% of California's 17-year olds had one.

Guerrero, Hackett and Albright are all attending vocational school on the adult campus to improve their clerical skills. They said they believe that with a high school diploma they will earn more.

They only had to walk to a nearby building to participate in the Drop-in Day, where adult-school counselors were available to give them guidance in mapping out a high school education program.

'I Want a Better Job'

"I want a better job when I'm able to work. I really want to improve. I can't go back to a job where I'll have to lift something heavy," Guerrero said.

During the day, which stretched to 10 p.m., about 30 people dropped in or called to inquire about the diploma program, said Norman Miller, ABC counselor.

Those who came in were asked to complete an informational background paper and authorize the adult school to request the transcripts from schools previously attended.

After transcripts are received, individual programs will be set up, allowing each student to work at his own pace, said Gilbert Carrillo, assistant principal of ABC adult school.

The normal semester is 18 weeks for a 5-unit course. However, students can complete a course of study at any time by requesting that they be given a test by the instructor. If they are successful, they go on to the next course.

Progress Monitored

"The students work on their own and I monitor their progress," Marilyn Ghysels, a teacher at the ABC adult school learning center, said in an interview.

"We get new people all the time. Maybe two or three per day. But with this effort we will get more," Ghysels said.

Those who missed the Drop-in Day can contact a local adult-education center for counseling or registration schedules.

Other area school districts participating in the statewide effort were Downey Unified, Bellflower Unified and Paramount Unified. Each said between 10 and 15 inquiries were received.

"I'm very pleased with the first year. I hope more schools will participate next year," Downey adult school Principal Judy Starbuck said.

Next year, the consortium will probably attempt to get more school districts involved, Bestor said.

"This year we had a small budget. We spent perhaps $5,000 for posters and phone calls. Maybe next year our budget will be larger and we can reach more dropouts," he said.

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