Our Voice: Helping school dropouts find way back to diploma

A high school diploma means a lot, but most students don't realize that until after they've dropped out of school.

That's when reality hits and they find out how many doors are closed to them because they didn't finish high school.

In the past, these teens likely would disappear from the system and struggle on.

That's not an acceptable scenario.

Now school officials are realizing there needs to be a more concerted effort to bring these students back to school and help them succeed.

Kennewick's "We Want You Back" is an amazing program that lets young people know there are ways for them to get their high school diploma and go on with their education.

The key is letting them know someone cares, that they haven't been forgotten and there is a second chance.

Former students are tracked down and contacted directly. Volunteers from the Kennewick School District visit them in their homes and encourage them to try again.

That conversation can change a person's life.

Many high school dropouts end up feeling detached from their school and community, and even if they want to return to school again, they don't know how or where to start.

Once they leave, it's typical to feel like nobody cared or noticed that they were gone. Having people knock on their doors and ask about them lets them know that people really do believe in them and want to help.

The Kennewick program is designed for students who are at least 18 years old, but still young enough that they could fit in at a traditional or alternative high school.

For those who just don't want to do high school over again, there is the option of enrolling at the Columbia Basin College High School Academy.

This is designed specifically for students ages 16 to 20 who have dropped out of their home high school or are at risk of dropping out. It's high school on the college campus, and it's a great alternative for students who might be too embarrassed to return to their home high school or who need a smaller environment to succeed.

For a lot of students, they are only a few classes short of getting their high school diploma. After 12 years in school, it's a shame when they give up so close to the finish line.

Schools should still focus on dropout prevention, but dropout recovery is just as important.

It's great the Kennewick School District has figured this out and is making the effort to help students return to school.

Watch out: School in session

Speaking of school ... it starts up again this week in the Tri-Cities.

Students in Kennewick and Finley will be heading back to the classroom today, while those in Richland, Pasco and Benton City will begin Wednesday.

That means people should be more aware of school zones, kids on bikes and teen drivers.

There's also the occasional horsing around at school bus stops, so keep an eye out. Those sidewalks will be pretty busy in the morning and afternoon.