GREENCASTLE -- Tuesday afternoon, Putnam County representatives from education, government, industry, economic development, social services, juvenile probation and businesses came together for a third time this summer.
The group is looking for ways to attack a community problem that affects every member of our county.
Nationwide, nearly one in three U.S. high school students fails to graduate. In total, approximately 1.3 million students drop out each year -- averaging 7,200 every school day.
Brad Tucker with State Farm Insurance and David English, executive director of the Putnam County United Way, hosted the meeting at the Miller Conference Center.
Tucker, who is also a retired educator, has been tapped to head a group to explore ways to reduce Putnam County's dropout rate through a program called America's Promise Alliance.
General Colin Powell founded this initiative in 1997. Today it is chaired by Powell's his wife Alma. It is a cross-sector partnership of more than 300 corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups passionate about improving lives and changing outcomes for children.
Their research has shown an inextricable link between the well being of children and our nation's economic health.
"Experts say that dropping out of high school affects not just students and their families, but the country overall -- including businesses, government and communities," said Tucker.
"Those who drop out are more likely to be incarcerated, rely on public programs and social services, and go without health insurance than those who graduate from high school," he continued.
According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, dropouts from just the class of 2007 will cost the nation $329 billion in lost wages, taxes, and revenue over their lifetimes.
In an effort to reduce America's high school dropout rates, the Alliance introduced the Dropout Prevention program.
More than 35 summits have been held in cities nationwide -- bringing together more than 14,000 mayors and governors, business owners, child advocates, school administrators, students and parents to develop workable solutions and action plans.
The Putnam County group plans to send 10 to 15 people to the America's Promise Alliance in Indianapolis on Sept. 25.
"We hope those people will come and pass on the information they gain. And together we can determine ways to increase the number of students graduating," said English.
The group on Tuesday spent a little over an hour discussing issues and gathering information surrounding the effect dropping out of school has on the community and the child.
"Not only does it economically impact the community but it is condemning these kids to a life of poverty," said Greencastle High School Principal Randy Corn.
One discussion centered on making cultural changes so that school becomes something for children to look forward to attending.
"There is a lot of opportunity out there. We need to start teaching them this earlier. By high school it is too late," said Economic Development Director Bill Dory.
"Convincing parents that graduation is an achievable goal is important," added Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray.
Students moving from one parent to another and one school district to another are an issue. So is the tradition of parents who drop out not expecting their children to graduate.
Not having enough money to send kids to school despite free and reduced book fees and lunch programs was mentioned. Of course, pregnancy, drugs and alcohol use and abuse factor into the formula.
North Putnam High School Principal Alan Zerkel brought up the idea of letting kids finish school at their own pace, not necessarily in four years.
"We have to do this in four years. There are certain things you can do and some you can't. Many college students today take five years to finish their degrees. Why not let high school students who need more time do the same?" he asked.
"And, let those who can finish in three do that too," added another person.
Problems with special needs students are another issue. Cloverdale Community School Superintendent Carrie Milner explained how a student's Intelligence Quotient (IQ) could affect graduation outcomes.
"The average is 100 points. Fifteen points below that and kids are struggling. A student having a 75 point IQ doesn't have the same ability as one with 115 point IQ," said Milner.
At the end of the meeting there were many questions and many suggestions.
"You can see the issue is huge. How do we get a handle on it?" said Tucker.
The next step will be meeting with school principals and superintendents to determine who will attend the summit in Indianapolis.
"We need to see if there is something we can do countywide and share recourses," said Tucker. "We'll bring in all the partners and see what initiatives come out of it in the future.
For information visit www.americaspromise.org or contact Brad Tucker at 653-9007.