A new dropout reversal program will hit close to home next month as the Tucson Unified School District, the mayor’s office and other local partners go door to door in an effort to get dropouts back into school.
The students will be visited not only by district and city officials, but also by others who dropped out before returning to complete their education and achieving great success.
“These are people who may not have taken a direct path to success, but they are very successful now,” said Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. “Our hope is that the children and families will see that if all of these people are taking the time, this is important.”
The Steps to Success walk will be held July 18 and is expected to reach families of students who have left school within the last 14 months. There have been 457 students identified, ranging from seventh-graders to high school seniors, whose educational status is classified as “unknown” by the Arizona Department of Education.
During the visits, officials will encourage students to return to school, referring them to a “Success Center” where each student will receive an individualized plan to be reintroduced into an academic environment that will best suit their needs.
For Pima Community College Instructional Vice President Lorraine Morales, that kind of outreach and caring could have changed her mind about dropping out of high school at age 17.
Coming from a family where education wasn’t really discussed, getting married, having children and becoming a housewife was the next logical step. As a junior in high school, to exit Morales was required to obtain signatures from her teachers, who obliged, no questions asked.
“Probably one of the most disappointing things for me, in retrospect, was I was a decent student — I took college prep classes — and not one of my teachers asked me why I was dropping out,” Morales said. “At the time I didn’t think anything of it, but now I think sometimes just asking the question will make a difference for the student who is contemplating this decision.”
Morales earned her GED about a year later after realizing dropping out was a spur-of-the-moment decision. She went on to work a number of low-paying jobs that would “never lead anywhere,” including cleaning rooms in a hotel. At one point, she worked in an unemployment office, training college graduates to become her boss.
“It was the reality of the workplace that made me realize that you need to have that piece of paper to advance,” Morales said.
Fast-forward to today, Morales has earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a doctorate. She is wrapping up her time as Instructional Vice President of PCC’s East Campus before becoming the new Community Campus President starting July 1.
“If you had told me back then that I would earn a college degree, much less three college degrees, I would have laughed because it was never part of the plan,” Morales said. “If I had not earned my GED, I would never have done any of the things I have done up to this point. Earning the GED opened the first door for me and I just kept moving forward.”
The University of Arizona athletic department along with Pima Community College, the Tucson police and fire departments, United Way, the Boys and Girls Clubs and others have agreed to take part in the campaign.
Rothschild indicated the cost of dropouts to a community is substantial — more than $130,000 in terms of tax revenue and more than $380,000 in social-services costs.
“This is really trying to focus on what I believe is a real fundamental core problem that if we can address it, it’s a real bang-for-the-buck result,” Rothschild said. “Hopefully it will be a small cost for intervention and a big reward for success.”