The largest school district in the state is now the 25th school district in the country — and the only one in Iowa — to join the “Gateway to College” initiative for high school drop-outs. The Walmart Foundation has given the Des Moines Public Schools a three-$300,000 grant to start the project.
Drop-outs between the ages of 16 and 21 will be able to enroll in classes at the Des Moines Area Community College “urban campus” in Des Moines. Nancy Sebring, the superintendent of Des Moines schools, says this is an alternative that may be a better fit for some students.
“When you’re in a large high school with 2,000 students in it, you’re on the superhighway, you’re on the interstate to graduation — and you’re taking the route most students do,” she says. “But there’s a different route and multiple routes you can take to get to this destination.” School officials know where many recent dropouts are, but Sebring says they’ll have to search for those who have been out of school for a while.
“I know that there are probably students who are older that we don’t know about or have lost track of in the Des Moines schools who are over-aged and under-credited and looking for options,” Sebring says. Once students complete the “Gateway to College” program, they’ll have enough credits for a high school diploma and half the number they need for an associate arts degree from the community college.
The first class of 25 returning high schoolers is expected to begin classes in the spring semester of 2011. The students won’t have to pay community college tuition. That will be covered by the school district, partly through the grant.