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Grade-schoolers focus of dropout-prevention

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, has swag.

 "It doesn't matter what type of clothes you have, we all have swag," Poore told students at Mary C. Snow Elementary School on Friday.

SWAG, Students With Awesome Goals, is a dropout-prevention initiative led by the Education Alliance. The program is tailored to kindergarteners through fifth-graders and rewards students for attendance, behavior and course performance.

Nearly 7,000 West Virginia students dropped out of high school in 2009, and one in five had five or more unexcused absences in 2011, according to the state Department of Education. More than 29,000 students -- 9 percent statewide -- were truant more than 10 days last year.

The SWAG program is the first of its kind that targets younger students to address the dropout crisis, and Mary C. Snow will be the first school in the state to try out the program before it goes statewide, according to the Education Alliance.

Poore, a member of the West Virginia House who was born and raised on Charleston's West Side, said it's crucial for the Mountain State's students to understand why school is important and to have an adult in their lives to relay that message.

Mary C. Snow students' test scores are among the lowest in the state, and the school could be a part of a new community-development program for the West Side that asks local organizations and residents to support students in succeeding in class.

"These kids are just like me. I needed someone to come in and tell me my potential, and I hope to be that for them, as well," Poore said. "They need to know that there's no limit to what they can do -- it doesn't matter where you grow up or how much money you have. The younger they understand that, the better."

Poore said she finds herself talking about the importance of education no matter what platform she's working on -- employment rates, economic development, community influence. This program allows young people to understand that connection long before they enter the real world, she said.

"When we tell our kids that they can be anything that they want to be, we have to start with education. This is an awesome approach because they understand the message -- they get it," she said. "You can't always talk the way we do at the Legislature. For them, it's cool. For us, it's a necessity. If we can't get them engaged, we've lost another generation, and we can't let that happen.

"If that means we need to call having good attendance, 'swag,' then let's do it."

For more information, contact the Education Alliance at 304-342-7849.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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