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Failing pupils get a chance at success

Published Oct. 18, 2005

Inverness Middle School officials have begun a new program that will allow pupils who have failed a grade to "buy back" a chance to rejoin their former classmates. The pupil can advance to the next grade if he or she fulfills a detailed contract based on academic achievement and good behavior.

"Often kids fall behind because of outside forces _ environment _ not because they haven't got the ability," said Willie Eldridge, Inverness Middle School principal.

"This is a way that, with everyone working together, we can bring it to that student in a good, strong, positive way that "Hey, it doesn't have to stay this way.'

"This is a tool that will assist that child to not keep a defeatist attitude. It gives them a chance to enhance their self-image, their ego," he said.

Pupils eligible for the Buy-Back Program are those Inverness sixth- and seventh-graders who have failed at least one grade and meet the age requirements of the program.

In order to be assigned to a higher grade level during the year, the pupils must meet a list of specific criteria in the first nine weeks of school, including:

earning a C or higher in academic subjects or an overall 2.5 grade point average without any failing grades,

maintaining conduct without any in-school or out-of-school suspensions,

obtaining three teacher recommendations for advancement,

passing a county skills test for that grade level,

after being advanced to the next grade, maintaining at least a C average, and

meeting the minimum county requirements for the new grade.

Twenty pupils are enrolled in the program and about half of those have completed their nine-week observation period.

The program is voluntary and requires parental permission.

While some pupils benefit from being retained, others find it causes more problems than it solves, said Dennis Wilson, Inverness Middle School guidance counselor and the primary author of the program.

"Children that fail a grade, they never forget it," Wilson said. "There are a few of them who are going to take it to heart."

Not only does that failure haunt them, but they soon begin to feel they don't fit in anymore because other children in their class are a year or two younger than they are.

"When a student starts feeling out of place, he starts going in a different direction," Wilson said. "Students want to be in with their peers."

The program would allow them to catch up. Plus, it helps a child in getting over that feeling of failure and replacing it with a feeling of accomplishment.

"I wanted them to feel like they did the majority of the work with help," Wilson said.

School officials developed the program several years ago after noticing that, each year, there were several pupils who could advance.

Several years of discussion and development followed. The plan was reviewed earlier this year by county-level school officials and the Alternatives Committee founded earlier this year by the school board.

One of the functions of that committee was to find alternative programs that will help keep pupils from dropping out of school.

"If we're going to save them, we're going to have to start in the middle school," said school board member Karen Johnson, who has been involved in the development of the program.

At the middle school level, pupils have a more structured set of subjects to learn and they change teachers for each of those subjects. Some of that personal one-on-one between teachers and pupils that exists in elementary school is lost at that point, Johnson said.

"Some kids get lost in that," she said. "Plus, this is when peer pressure sets in. This is when bodies change. ... This is when they start losing track of what they're in school for."

School officials plan to keep a close eye on the pupils who participate in the new program, to be sure they remain eligible and to see how they fare in high school and beyond.

Eldridge and Wilson said they have high hopes for the program.

"Every child wants to be successful," Wilson said. "Sometimes they just need little successes along the way ... and that success breeds more success."