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Student Program Addresses Conflicts, Consequences and School Dropout Rates

Sept. 7, 2007 — Students from public schools throughout the district packed into the UVI Sports and Fitness Center Friday, taking a break from morning classes and getting advice on issues ranging from conflict resolution to low self-esteem.
"After doing some research, I noticed that enrollment in our schools climbs steadily until about seventh grade, where students begin to drop out at a substantial rate," said Cheryl Francis, wife of Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis, who organized the event through her Stop the Bleeding Foundation.
In trying to determine why the dropout rate escalates as students progress through the system, Francis said she went on a search for information from various community organizations, government agencies and clergy members.
"The general consensus was that parental involvement was missing throughout many sectors of the community,” she said. “And that got me wondering about what kind of programs we have available in the community to help the kids and their parents. Interestingly, when I did the research, I discovered that there are a huge volume of programs and agencies out there — but people don't know about them."
To combat this problem, Friday's event presented speakers from a number of different agencies, such as the V.I. Police Department, whose representatives supplied information on VIPD-sponsored after-school and community programs. Speakers from the local Teen Hotline also spoke about how students can handle conflicts and accept the consequences of their actions.
Members of the clergy also put on a skit for students, teaching them the value of listening to others and learning from past mistakes. Keynote speaker Devon "Dutchie" Robinson sought to impart similar lessons by telling students about his life experiences and run-ins with the law.
"The feedback that I got throughout the day was generally positive," Francis said later Friday afternoon. "We're planning on holding another summit on St. Croix in October, and after that, I hope to do a summit for parents, so we can help them become more aware of what their kids are doing and feeling."
Students participating in Friday's summit — which ran from 9 a.m. to about 1 p.m. — indicated they would be willing to attend similar events in the future, Francis said.
"They really said that they wanted to do it again," she said. "That makes me really excited about what I'm doing, and seeing the children feel good about themselves. And I think we accomplished a lot today — making a positive movement toward motivating young people to change their mindset and stay in school."
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