Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

At-Risk Students Get Chance to Excel; Achievers for Life Is Part of a Comprehensive Strategy to Stem the Dropout Rate in Duval

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

At-Risk Students Get Chance to Excel; Achievers for Life Is Part of a Comprehensive Strategy to Stem the Dropout Rate in Duval

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA

Devon Hopkins entered sixth grade for the second time in August 2008.

But just as the year before, he struggled.

Devon was smart and scored well on tests. But he had a problem sitting still in class, doing class assignments and not talking. Devon has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a speech impediment.

He was earning a 0.79 grade-point average, said his mother, Toni Hopkins.

Then in late October, after Devon was accused of throwing a rag at a teacher, Arlington Middle pushed for his transfer to an alternative school, likely for the rest of the year. He'd already been to one the year before.

"I would have put him in private school first, and I would be working two jobs," Hopkins said.

Devon was in a holding pattern, and Hopkins felt she was facing a wall.

Then a school official told Lori Chapman, a family advocate with Jewish Family and Community Services, about Devon's situation. The agency works with United Way of Northeast Florida as part of the Achievers for Life program. It targets sixth-grade students at risk of dropping out of school and tries to help them during their transition into middle school.

Chapman reached out to Hopkins, who just wanted some guidance.

"I didn't expect her to jump in and help," Hopkins said. "I just asked for a solution or point me in another direction,"

Chapman did more than that. She and others helped Devon turn himself around.

She and Brian Tate, a student advocate with Communities in Schools, a nonprofit that works to prevent dropouts, reached out to his teachers and school administrators and outlined a plan to help him. He would meet regularly with Tate, who would help him focus on his schooling, and he would meet with a mentor.

While Tate was working with Devon, Chapman worked with Hopkins. She helped Devon's mom argue against putting him in an exceptional education program with students who had troubles with their academics.

"Having her in the school in their face made a difference," Hopkins said.

By the end of last year, Devon was focusing more on his work - and it showed. He ended the year with about a 2.5 GPA.

Achievers for Life is starting its second full year now and is offered at Fort Caroline, Matthew Gilbert and Northwestern middles. Later this fall it will start at Jefferson Davis and J.E.B. Stuart middles.

The program will work with 75 sixth-graders at each school, as well as about half of the sixth-graders from last year who are now in seventh grade.

The students are matched with mentors, if a mentor is available. This year Achievers for Life also is offering students tutors to help them more with their studies.

It's also a crucial part of the community collaborative Learning to Finish - a comprehensive dropout-prevention program. …

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