AVON LAKE - Avon Lake City Schools will establish a mentoring and intervention program early next year to reduce the chances of at-risk students dropping out.

The school board voted 5-0 at its Nov. 5 meeting to add the Check & Connect program for middle and high school students, which it expects to be in place by February.

The program will begin with 15 trained staff members at Learwood and Troy middle schools and the high school. They will mentor and connect with an eighth- or ninth-grader weekly, said the district’s curriculum director, Jack Dibee, during the presentation to the board. The program will identify students who are at risk of dropping out, such as those who are frequently absent or are not keeping up with their schoolwork.

Dibee is consulting with the University of Minnesota, which has worked with the What Works Clearinghouse, a research firm, to gauge the success of the program. He also is reviewing how Check & Connect is working in Pennsylvania school districts that have adopted it and also use it in the lower grades. Avon Lake will consider adding the program in the lower grades later, Dibee said.

"There sometimes can be a disconnect between middle school to high school, but this program has shown success with at-risk students in the way of improving attendance and increased performance in the classroom,” Dibee said. "We have to start somewhere, but we don't want it to start too big that it's not successful."

Staff members will complete a two-day training session to learn how to identify at-risk students. Parents also could contact the district to request a mentor.

Board member Ron Jantz expressed support for the program and agreed that it should be expanded to lower grades.

"It's a great thing," Jantz said. "The earlier we get students in the program the better. Having students develop good habits early on definitely will benefit them as they reach higher grades."

Superintendent Bob Scott said that students who fall into bad habits usually want to stay home from school and not have anyone pay attention to them.

"We want to be proactive instead of reactive," Scott said. "We often know who these at-risk kids are by the second semester of their freshman year or by their sophomore year. We won't want these kids to disappear when they get to high school. We realize that there still are some kids who need help graduating and it's our responsibility to help them there."

Contact this reporter at msakal@westlifenews.com, or 440-871-5797.

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