School District Plans Mobile Classroom to Go After Dropouts

Times Staff Writer

Gang members, pregnant teen-agers, young mothers and other troubled youths who have dropped out of school may be able to attend a mobile classroom in their own neighborhoods this fall through a program being developed in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District.

The district, with the help of Charter Hospital of Long Beach, plans to bring education and counseling to up to 85 dropouts by converting a 26-foot recreational vehicle into a roving classroom. The mobile classroom would travel four days a week to various parts of the district, including many gang neighborhoods, in an effort to reach dropouts up to 18 years old, officials said.

"We are willing to go to them if they don't come to us," said Carola Lueder, coordinator of youth services for Charter Hospital, which recently provided counseling to students at John Glenn High School in Norwalk after the slaying of star athlete and honors student Juan Enriquez.

Counselor to Be Assigned

Charter is providing the $47,000 motor home and plans to assign a counselor part time to the project, Lueder said. At least one full-time teacher, a teacher's aide and possibly another part-time counselor would be assigned from the district.

A preliminary proposal was submitted last month to the Board of Education, which approved the concept and instructed officials to return with a comprehensive proposal.

"This is an attempt to bring back those students who dropped out. It is not a final answer but it is a very significant step," said Howard L. Rainey, acting superintendent of the 18,000-student system.

During the 1988-89 school year, 417 students dropped out of school, according to district figures. Of those, 172 were sophomores, 174 were juniors and 71 were seniors.

An existing dropout program provides independent study in which students work at home and return completed homework assignments to the district.

The Norwalk-La Mirada project would be similar to a program started about 11 months ago by the Santa Clara County Office of Education. The roving classroom program at the Central Independent High School of San Jose mostly serves pregnant teen-agers or young mothers who have dropped out of school in the San Jose and Santa Clara areas. School officials used state lottery funds to purchase a used mobile home.

Two teachers work six days a week, including Saturdays, traveling to mostly low-income communities to teach, said teacher Ralph Wigginton, 33, who thought of the idea. "We kept losing students, most of them to pregnancy. Something just had to be done," he said.

Five students have already graduated from the program, which started with 25 students, Wigginton said. There are 20 dropouts on a waiting list, and district officials are considering purchasing a second motor home, he said.

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