Having the lowest score is usually not a good thing. This time it is. Kent County has the lowest dropout rate in Delaware, according to a recent Department of Education report.

With a rate less than 2 percent, our schools reflect a national trend of declining dropout rates. This achievement is the result of special programs put in place to combat some of the causes of students dropping out of school, including Dover High School’s Daylight Program.

When Solomon Lee, 18, lived in Wilmington, he never expected to graduate from high school. Now, the Dover High School student has hopes of going to college. Lee, who wants to eventually attend a school for the performing arts, is one of about 20 students in the school’s Daylight Program.

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“I know if I was in the place that I was before, I wasn’t going to go to high school,” Lee said. “I wasn’t going to try to get a high school diploma. I was just going to make it on my own, I guess."

The program, introduced in 2013, is focused on credit recovery as a means of dropout prevention. It allows students make up classes they have previously failed.

Along with other efforts by the Capital School District, the Daylight Program has helped DHS improve its dropout rate from 3.8 percent in the 2011-12 school year to 1.5percent in 2013-14

James Bailey, the program’s instructor, said the program’s impact goes beyond the school.

“It’s a community benefit. It’s a family benefit,’” Bailey said. “It’s a school district benefit because when these students have the opportunity to recover the credits they can get the sense that they can be productive citizens for our city and our state.”

Give and take equal success

The Daylight Program was developed as a means to motivate students who had fallen behind earning graduation credits for more than one class, Evelyn Edney, DHS principal said.

“We were looking at a lot of kids in the school who were a couple of grade levels behind,” Edney said. “They’re [students who feel] like, ‘I’m not going to be able to do this’ or ‘I’m going to stay stuck in this grade forever.’”

That feeling of defeat often led to dropping out, Bailey said.

“Many students feel helpless and hopeless that they won’t have an opportunity to graduate,” he said. “Without this program many of the students would not even come to school anymore because they have basically given up.”

Not all students who have fallen behind in earning the credits are allowed to enroll in the program. Students must show that they’re committed to doing the needed work.

The process starts when a student is recommended by a parent, teacher or school counselor.  The student is interviewed and is required to sign a contract that they they’ll work hard, won’t be late or absent and will behave. Parents also signed the contract and are kept advised of their child’s progress.

Daylight students do coursework online during the day instead of attending regular classes. Some spend the entire day in the class, while others, who are in need of fewer credits, are only there for a few hours each school day.

Bailey, who has been teaching in Delaware and New Jersey for 35 years, monitors the students’ progress to make sure they stay on task. Throughout the day, English and math teachers visit the classroom to make sure the students understand what they’re learning online. 

While all students in the program are there to get themselves back on track academically, the reasons they fall behind vary, said Bailey said.

“Often it’s not about academic ability; it’s about external issues. Parents may be unemployed, looking for work, or single,” he said.

Bailey recalled some students who were dealing with homeless and so were unable to focus on school. He said helping  the students deal with outside factors help make the program a success.

 “A lot of our success stories are just being involved with the student’s life,” Bailey said. “Guidance counselors let me know exactly what’s going and what I should be mindful of, learning styles, things of that nature are all important to success.”

Recently, Brittany Pepper, 17 finished up the online course work she needed to earn credits in Spanish and gym. Since the start of the school year, she had spent the first period every day in the program and then went on to other classes.

“I’d come in [the Daylight Program classroom] and get my computer and do either Spanish or Gym and then second period I’m gone. I’m on to Math, English and my early childhood class.”

Because of her efforts, she was able to recover the credits and not expects to graduate on time.

“I would not have been graduating and I would have been heartbroken,” she said. Pepper plans on going to college to study criminal justice.

Funding the future

The Daylight Program was initially created using about $12,000 in funding from Race to the Top partnership funds. This money is given to schools that were not meeting statewide academic expectations.

With its decreasing dropout rate and hitting other state expectations, DHS was removed from the Partnership Zone status, meaning it was no longer eligible to receive the partnership funding.

Edney said the program is able to continue because it has been funding s has added to the school’s regular budget.

As a result, Bailey continues to guide the students through the program, which he calls “a miracle.”

 “Some students come into the program and they really doubt that this is going to work and then in the end they leave smiling like Brittany [Pepper] did today. To see them gain that hope is worth it for me,” he said.