Steamboat, Hayden and South Routt all offer day treatment programs with counseling for students with unique challenges, and it's a program that has worked well, Schmid said.
Almost 10,000 Colorado high school students dropped out last year.
Though they were just a small fraction of the state's high school enrollment, the significance is much greater when the long-term impact of their decisions is analyzed. The average annual earnings of high school dropouts is $18,900, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Annual earnings increase to $25,900 for high school graduates and $45,000 for college graduates. Each year's class of dropouts will cost the country more than $200 billion during their lifetimes in lost earnings and unrealized tax revenue, according to the National Dropout Prevention Center.
High school dropouts make up 82 percent of America's prison population and are twice as likely as high school graduates to be unemployed, according to NDPC. Unemployment often leads to increased dependency on welfare.
These facts don't escape local school officials -- they haunt them.
"I feel devastated (when a student drops out)," Hayden School District Superintendent Scott Mader said. "In my mind, their future is a lot bleaker when they walk out that door."
"I really hate to see it," South Routt School District Superintendent Steven Jones said. "It usually does impact their opportunities for the future."
Unfortunately, the aforementioned statistics mean little to students who've made up their minds, Mader said.
"The kids who are bent on dropping out, I don't think those statistics mean a thing," he said.
Routt County's three school districts -- Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt -- use a multitude of programs and efforts to keep each and every student inside school doors until graduation. But reality shows they don't always work.
Dropout rates are not particularly high in Routt County, but even one dropout is too many, administrators said.
An empty feeling
"It's an empty feeling when a kid leaves," Steamboat Springs High School Principal Dave Schmid said. "You feel like a failure because it's our job to help kids find success."
Last year, Steamboat Springs High School had a dropout rate of 0.7 percent, nearly two percentage points below the state average and well below the three-year average for the county's three public high schools.
Hayden High School saw 4.4 percent of its students drop out last year, a drastic improvement when compared with the rate of 9.9 percent three years ago.
Soroco High School did not have a dropout last year, although Jones said the statistic is misleading.
Colorado law defines a dropout as a "person who leaves school for any reason, except death, before completion of a high school diploma or its equivalent, and who does not transfer to another private or public school or enroll in an approved home study program."
For this reason, teens who leave school and enroll in GED programs or other educational programs aren't counted. So while a 0 percent dropout rate looks nice on paper, it doesn't mean the school was able to keep all its students from leaving.
'The significant factor'
Symptoms identifying the students most likely to drop out are well known by most school administrators and teachers.
Countless studies over the past 40 years to determine dropout causes continue to come up with similar results: inability to get along with teachers and peers, failing grades, poor attendance, pregnancy, transferred schools, and general dislike of school are typically the most common reasons for dropping out, studies show. While schools can't lower graduation requirements or the quality of education to keep a student from leaving, they can work to meet the needs of individual students, and therein lies the challenge, Schmid said.
Meeting the needs often translates into discovering what has meaning for a particular student, often best carried out by creating school atmospheres that provide personalized attention, administrators said.
"Personalized attention is the best thing I know that keeps kids in school," Mader said. "If they feel wanted, it makes a big difference. In my career, that's been the significant factor."
More than 600 teens are enrolled at Steamboat Springs High School, and the school has gone to great lengths to create personalized attention for each student, Steamboat Superinten-dent Cyndy Simms said.
"The biggest dropout prevention is when you can create meaningful relationships (for students) with adults," Schmid said.
To that end, the school has employed several programs, most notably "anchor time," to meet individual needs.
In the anchor time program, each school staff member is assigned between 12 and 15 students that the staff member follows throughout the students' high school careers.
Anchor time is a 55-minute period held once a week where staff members and their small group of students meet.
"We try to create structures in our school where kids are known well," Schmid said. "Over a four-year period of time you hope to get to know the kids."
Getting to know each student is easier at Hayden High School and Soroco High School, where student enrollment is significantly lower than at Steamboat Springs High School, Mader said.
Parental involvement also can be a key factor in keeping teens in school. However, schools sometimes find that a student's parents don't emphasize the value of a high school education.
"If there's a (family) culture that it's OK to drop out, it's going to make it easier (for a student) to do that," Jones said. "It's a small minority, but I think it's something that adds to it."
Still, schools work toward other ends.
After posting the 9.9 percent dropout rate during the 1999-2000 school year, the Hayden School District began work on a cyber school, which provides a limited number of students who haven't fared well in a traditional school setting with a more flexible, individualized schedule using an online academic program and two part-time instructors.
Similarly, South Routt School District created an alternative school for its students who struggle in traditional settings.
"We're offering an alternative for students who just feel like they're not connecting enough in the high school and they're not getting their needs met," Jones said.
Soroco High School counselor Lisa Idelberg said the alternative school has been a success.
"The kids are really into it," she said. "It has been a great strength with this district in being able to focus on some of the at-risk students and getting them involved in school."
Steamboat recently launched a program to help teens who have failed a class earn the credit without being placed back into the same class a second time.
Tiny districts such as Hayden and South Routt often don't have the ability to offer electives that can spark the interest of otherwise disengaged students, Jones said.
To that end, local high schools work cooperatively with Colorado Mountain College and Colorado Northwestern Community Col-lege to allow interested students to take college-level courses. Schools employ an assortment of other efforts and programs designed at motivating students and meeting individual needs, but officials in each district admit their efforts don't help every student.
"It breaks my heart when a kid leaves," Schmid said. "Sometimes you just feel hopeless. You wish you could find something for that student to connect with. We try pretty hard to make that happen, but quite honestly, sometimes we're not successful."
To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234 or