TUSD's dropout prevention walk has hundreds stepping toward succ - Tucson News Now

TUSD's dropout prevention walk has hundreds stepping toward success

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson's largest school district says an effort to get dropouts back to class is paying off.

Last month Tucson Unified School District leaders and other employees were joined by community volunteers as they went door door to urge students to re-enroll in school.

Many have returned, including 43 out of 50 students who were seniors last year, but who did not have enough credits to graduate.

Of the 457 students whose status was unknown, and who are more difficult to find, 161 have gone back to school.

There are a lot of facts and figures that show TUSD's Dropout Prevention Program is making headway in some areas, but but when you get right down to it, it's all about the individual stories.

We heard one of those stories Monday.

Jasmine Rodriguez is a young woman who is overcoming more than most of us have ever had to deal with, and who has chosen to finish high school.

"School is pretty much the way out of a lot of struggles," Jasmine says.

At 18-years-old, Jasmine has seen many struggles. 

Jasmine is a super senior, a student who was a senior last year and is back to complete her studies and get her diploma.

She has endured poverty, instability and a lot of moving from place to place, changing schools as she grew up.

However, on July 18th, hundreds of volunteers joined TUSD for the "Steps to Success" walk.

They knocked on doors and found dropouts or students in danger of dropping out.

It was a first for TUSD, and it had an impact.

"A message of you can do it. Don't quit. Don't give up. Come back. We have programs that can help you to finish. And the kids really responded," says TUSD Dropout Prevention Specialist John Kramkowski.

"It felt good knowing that they actually still care about kids coming back to school," says Jasmine.

Jasmine has two children of her own now.

She says she's struggling financially.

She wasn't sure if she should go back to school or go to work. 

Jasmine has made the choice to break the cycle.

"I mean hearing my mom's stories, having to dropout of school, it just made me want to go," Jasmine says.

Kramkowski works with students like Jasmine every day.

They are students for whom life is a struggle.

"And school really becomes less of a priority for them when you don't know where your next meal is going to come from or if you don't know if you're going to have housing after school," Kramkowski says.

He's proud of the "Steps to Success" walk.

"We got kids from other districts. We have kids return from charters. We had kids all the way up to 21 years old calling us to try to get into a program. So we were able to help a wide variety of people," Kramkowski says.

He says the students are just as gifted as any other student, but many have barriers and challenges that most of their classmates do not have to deal with.

"For me, I think it's the stories of the kids that have been able to overcome those things--like the Jasmines that are constantly working to overcome problems that, for a lot of us growing up, we never even would have thought about having to deal with that, and they deal with it every day. And that's kind of motivating for me," Kramkowski says.

He says working hard to get students back into school and finding the resources they need to stay there benefits the students themselves, but also society as a whole.

Kramkowski says there is no societal issue that isn't touched by education.

"We can look at the impact on crime. We can look at the impact on revenue--on state revenues. We can look at an impact all around us. And so, if we choose to just say, 'They didn't graduate. It's their problem. Let them deal with it,' you can say that if you want to, but you're going to be dealing with it in some way within your community," Kramkowski says.

Jasmine is going to class. She's studying. She has a plan for her and her children.

"I would like to give them the life I didn't have," she says.

Kramkowski says the dropout prevention office is still getting calls and is currently working to re-enroll more students.

TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez has said he would like to do the Steps to Success Walk at least twice a year.

The more community volunteers they have, the more people they can reach.

The phone number for the TUSD Dropout Prevention program is 232-8411.

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