United Way program may help grad rate

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A local United Way program that targets at-risk youths may one day help raise the graduation rate among black students at Central High School, the program's coordinator says.

The United Way of Southeast Missouri is working to help mostly minority students at Jefferson Elementary, Central Middle and Central Junior High schools through a program called LIFE. The name stands for Leading and Inspiring Families to Excel.

The program is in its second year. It includes an after-school program at the middle and junior high schools and at the southside Cape Area Family Resource Center. The "Smart Move" program employs a life-skills curriculum and is coordinated through the Boys and Girls Club of Cape Girardeau.

It focuses on teaching about decision-making, problem-solving, and encouraging self-esteem, said LIFE coordinator Reba Barkley. About 100 students are signed up for the program, she said.

A second component of the LIFE program focuses on parent education through the University of Missouri Extension office. The third component involves local counselors who work with families to improve home life.

Families must apply to be part of the voluntary program. Ten families were targeted this school year, said Barkley, a former elementary school principal. Next year, the three-pronged LIFE initiative will expand to three schools in the Jackson School District, she said.

Barkley said LIFE may help keep at-risk students in school. That, she said, could improve the black graduation rate at Central High School, where blacks make up just over 20 percent of the student body, she said.

For the graduation rate to improve, she said, the program has to focus on helping students long before they get to high school.

-- Mark Bliss

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