The Times West Virginian

December 9, 2012

Marion County willing to go even further to assist at-risk students

Times West Virginian

— The term “at-risk” student was introduced after a 1983 article “A Nation at Risk,” published by the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

The article described part of the United States society as being economically and socially endangered. At-risk students are those who have been labeled as being in danger of academic failure.

When it comes to education, it’s obviously irresponsible to write-off any young person. The obligation to help prepare every student in the public school system for life ahead is critical.

In Marion County there are currently options available for at-risk students, and we applaud an effort discussed and approved at last week’s Marion County Board of Education meeting to go a step further.

An alternative to what is already being offered could be just what a few of the students need, according to Joe Merendino, the director of safety and risk management at the Division of Juvenile Services. Merendino and Travus Oates, principal at the Barnes Alternative Learning Center, proposed that the BOE consider partnering with them to start a new school for at-risk students. This additional program could reduce the suspension rate/expulsion rate, Oates said.

The concept also drew the support of Superintendent of Schools Gary Price, and board members unanimously approved the idea.

Merendino is passionate about doing all possible to avoid sending students to the Industrial Home for Youth, the state’s only maximum-security prison for young people.

“We have some really tough kids, and these kids have never had a chance from birth,” Merendino said. “We think this will work.”

We hate to hear that expression — young people who “never had a chance.”

BOE members, taking the stance of effectively educating as many students as possible and helping them toward a good life when their school days are over, were obviously impressed by the presentation.

“When you walk in here with our probation officer, with our principal at Barnes and with our superintendent in support of doing this, it’s hard to say no,” board president the Rev. James Saunders said.

Soon to be established at the Marion County Youth Reporting Center on Locust Avenue, the school would admit up to 15 students. Currently, the center serves 16 students from throughout Marion County. With the school setting in place, a master-level therapist, additional counseling, case managers, correctional counselors and possibly a correctional officer would be added to the staff.

“We’re talking our toughest of our tough could go to this program at the center,” Oates said.

An existing referral system would be in place between Barnes and the Youth Reporting Center. While they would be responsible for providing the security officer, crisis intervention, training, Internet and phone service, the BOE would be responsible for providing a teacher and supplies, coordinating programs through Barnes, attending meetings and sharing transportation.

“I saw it as a win-win situation,” Oates said. “I saw it as a good resource for Marion County Schools and also the students that the BLC serves — the at-risk population.”

Services will be offered only to those in Marion County, unless a student from another county is closer in driving distance to this center, Merendino explained.

The new program is not a cure-all. Students must make the final determination that they will take advantage of the assistance offered, and it’s critical that families are effectively involved whenever possible.

Nevertheless, the message that Marion County is willing to go even further to help at-risk students is one we’re pleased to fully support.