Plan Offers 9th-Graders High School Coping Tips

The school district is experimenting with a program to help troubled first-year high school students survive the transition from eighth grade and avoid dropping out.

There are 22 high school students enrolled in the 3-week-old Ninth Grade Opportunities Program, where lessons in survival are as important as academics.

"There is clearly a potential for despair, poor academic performance and a feeling of hopelessness that can grow out of check," said Paul Mills, director of secondary and alternative education for the Irvine Unified School District. "We want them to generate independence and a feeling that they can get back."

The program was delayed a year after district finances were threatened by the Orange County bankruptcy. Supt. Dennis M. Smith said the program is paid for by a reallocation of high school funds for each student and a matching contribution from the district of about $10,000.

Students meet at the district's SELF continuation high school from noon to 4 p.m. every day, studying core subjects along with "anger conflict management" and study skills.

Some of the students have a history of truancy and rebellious behavior that could lead to failure in high school, district officials said.

The opportunities program teacher is assisted by district support staff, including a guidance counselor and school psychologist, as well as student volunteers.

"We're giving them an intensive dose of how they can work well with adults who care; how we can build positive relationships with these young people so we can recover them," Mills told school board members last week. "The costs of not recovering them are tremendous to society."

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