Originally created 03/03/98

Program helps teens get back on track



If you're 17 and still in the seventh grade, you're probably not going to be motivated to stay in school the rest of your life to get your high school diploma.

Most likely, you'll want to leave.

"Studies show that students who are several grade levels behind when they reach 17, they drop out," says Frank Roberson, assistant superintendent for instructional services at Aiken County Public Schools.

"Many of these students never reach ninth grade."

So Linda Strojan, freshman guidance counselor at North Augusta High School, created the Seven to Nine program, which allows students to skip from seventh to ninth grade.

"It's like a net to get them before they exit our schools," Dr. Roberson says. "These are students who have not done well academically and are getting further and further behind."

Students in the program have either failed grades, dropped out or been kicked out of school. The summer after seventh grade they go to summer school and then head straight to ninth grade.

They work harder and are more motivated to graduate when they're in the grade they should be, Dr. Roberson says. And at North Augusta they have Ms. Strojan working with them.

She spends hours getting to know each student. Ms. Strojan has driven her students home and always talks with their parents. Once a week, Wendy's restaurants provide a free lunch to the students, and they have a rap/counseling session to talk about what's bothering them and how to fix it.

"She's the center of my day," says Marcus Johnson, 15. "I don't know what I'd do without her."

Ms. Strojan is finding an after-school tutor for Marcus who can drive him home. She has also helped him control his anger and told him how important it is for him to get to class on time, not smoke and not drop out.

He's going to graduate. And she's going to help him.

"When I had a problem she had time to help me -- whenever I had a problem I just asked," Marcus says. "She's always there."