Dropout Reduction and Jobs Program Developed by University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work Student Funded for Eastside Memorial High School

A job-training/dropout reduction program developed by a University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work student for the Austin Independent School District has been awarded a $250,000 grant by the Texas Education Agency.

The pilot program, created by master's student Mary Duncan, prepares and supports students at Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus in their search for employment while making staying in school and graduation a priority. It will be funded for two years.

The goals of the Collaborative Dropout Reduction Pilot Program are to increase the number of students graduating from high school and make them ready for college, reduce the drop-out rate and increase students' job skills and employment opportunities. It also works to provide continuing education opportunities, including dropout recovery and re-entry programs.

"The dropout rate at Eastside was one area that desperately needed attention," said Duncan, who also has a law degree from the university. "A number of students were dropping out because school conflicted with their work schedules and many others were actively seeking employment."

Social work students learn not only how to implement social policy and programs but also how to develop new policies and programs, said Dr. Barbara White, dean of the School of Social Work.

"In the highly competitive world of funding, the fact that a student was able to play the major role in securing such a substantial grant is a tremendous accomplishment," White said. "Mary Duncan typifies the spirit of the social work profession. This new program will have lasting effects."

In developing the program, Duncan worked under the guidance of Mary Beer, who received her master's degree from the School of Social Work in 2001. She is the social worker at Eastside Memorial High School, the new school formed after Johnston High School closed last year.

In addition to developing weekly training, the core of most job training programs, Duncan also established partnerships with managers in the community who would guarantee an interview to any student who successfully completed the training.

"The immediacy of an interview enthused the students to participate in the program," said Duncan.

Local business managers were invited as guest speakers at the high school to share information on how they identify and hire qualified workers. They also shared tips on how students might set themselves apart from other teenagers in the job market.

Dr. Linelle Clark-Brown, dropout prevention/reduction coordinator for the Austin Independent School District, recognized the potential of the program and presented it to the Texas Education Agency, which awarded the grant.