Programs created to increase graduation rates in Bartholomew County and give local residents the training they need to find a good-paying job are doing exactly what they were intended to do, local education stakeholders say.
Through programs such as iGrad and the McDowell Education Center, education leaders in the county are working together to ensure students stay in school and graduate on time with a high school diploma.
When establishing new programs to help increase the graduation rate and decrease the dropout rate, Columbus-based Community Education Coalition president and CEO John Burnett said he and the planning committee asked two questions:
What might the community do to help more students be successful in graduating from high school?
How could those students take the next step in getting a post-secondary education leading to well-paying jobs?
Since 2011, the number of students who have dropped out from Bartholomew County high schools has decreased from 112 to 46 students last year — a decrease of 59 percent, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education and Indiana Business Research Center.
Kathy Oren, the Community Education Coalition’s executive director, attributes this decrease to success of two programs implemented by Bartholomew County schools: iGrad and the McDowell Education Center’s adult education program.
The iGrad program is a collaborative effort by the Community Education Coalition, Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus, Cummins Inc., Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. to raise graduation rates by helping at-risk students through the use of mentors.
Established in 2012, iGrad is a dropout prevention and high school success initiative for middle school and high school students.
Operated by Ivy Tech, it pairs students with coaches, mentors and tutors, based on need, to remove any barriers that may prevent a student from earning a high school diploma.
Data gathered from focus groups reaffirmed what was already known, said Bill Jensen, BCSC’s director of secondary education.
With eight to nine root causes behind a student’s decision to drop out, Jensen said the top cause was a disconnect in school — students not seeing the relevancy in education.
Between 550 and 600 students are expected to be involved with iGrad this year, he said.
Students may be referred to the program through a variety of sources, including self-referrals, parents or teachers. After students are evaluated, they are paired with a graduation coach, a college and careers coach, a mentor or a tutor. Depending on their need, they may be placed with a variety of each.
Each coach in the iGrad program has a special responsibility.
Graduation coaches help students navigate any obstacles they may experience as they advance through their academic careers. College and career coaches help them prepare for life after high school. Both the mentors and tutors are positions held by community volunteers.
“As a community, we are focused on ensuring that our students are prepared for today’s workforce,” said Jim Roberts, BCSC superintendent. “This program has a 95 percent graduation rate for students participating and has played a major part in the continual increase of our corporation’s overall rate.”
About the McDowell Education Center
For more than 25 years, the adult education program at the McDowell Education Center, located at 2700 McKinley Ave., has helped thousands of students earn a high school equivalency diploma.
The McDowell Learning Center is available to students in Bartholomew, Jackson, Decatur and Jennings counties, Burnett said.
The program offers both day and evening classes for adults 18 and older who may not have earned their high school diploma or are interested in earning a certification or prepare for a college-readiness exam. Students between ages 16 and 17 are also eligible to enroll, but must have completed an exit interview with their previous high school or home school.
Last year, 700 students were enrolled in classes through the year-round program. Classes include math skills improvement, writing and reading comprehension, along with national certification courses, employment skills and work-readiness skills.
“There’s a heck of a lot happening with respect to adult education and also helping more students traditionally stay in school and graduate on time, so that over time, there will be fewer and fewer adults in our region that don’t have a high school diploma,” Burnett said.
The McDowell Education Center also offers a daycare program for students and BCSC faculty and staff. It accepts children between ages six weeks and 3 years old.
“Our students, we want them to be successful,” said Andrea Quick, McDowell Education Center’s director. “We’re going to provide them with everything they need to get there.”
Last year, 87 McDowell students graduated with an Indiana High School Equivalent diploma.
The success of both iGrad and the McDowell Education Center are being noticed countywide.
The evidence lead Burnett to wonder why Goodwill Education Initiatives sees a need to pursue an Excel Center in Columbus, which it has proposed to further reduce the Bartholomew County dropout rate.
“From a business standpoint, the dropout rates are going down, the results of the current providers are excellent — some of the best in the state,” Burnett said. “The data tells us all the trends are headed in a very positive direction.”
These collaborations have resulted in more than 90 percent of Bartholomew County students graduating from high school with a majority pursuing post-secondary education, said Mayor Jim Lienhoop, adding that he looks forward to seeing the graduation rate grow even more.
“Community leaders have always placed a high value on education in Columbus and have done an excellent job of teaming up with business, not-for-profits, individual volunteers, and education professionals to improve our learning systems and increase high school and college attainment throughout Bartholomew County and our region,” Lienhoop said.
“This focus on educational attainment is truly the catalyst for our successful economic development efforts in both recruiting new businesses and retaining and attracting talent to our community.”
To register for the adult education orientation at McDowell Education Center, visit mcdowelledu.org/online-registration.html.
To learn more about the iGrad Program in Bartholomew County, email program administrators at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 812-374-5265.