A class at East Davidson High School that focuses on making would-be dropouts more employable has actually helped many of them stay in school instead of quitting to take jobs.

It's part of a four-pronged approach that also:Matches students on the brink with individual teachers for daily ``buddy system' contacts;

Trains student volunteers to help their peers cope with whatever's keeping them from school; and

Coordinates efforts by teachers, counselors and administrators to spot potential dropouts and intervene before it's too late.

The number of dropouts has decreased from 71 four years ago to 44 two years ago, says Kathy McCrary, who teaches a class called Employability and Personal Skills. This year's goal is 25 dropouts from a student body of almost 800 ninth- through 12th-graders.

Last year's figures showed a reversal, rising to 50, and administrators say it's because McCrary's position was not funded in 1989-90.

But she's back in the saddle this year, and there were only six dropouts during the first two months of classes, compared with 20 during the same period last year.

East Davidson's success at keeping potential dropouts in school has drawn interest from other schools across the state. Last month teachers, guidance counselors and administrators from 15 schools were invited to a program at East Davidson to find out how McCrary and her colleagues do it.

The three dozen visitors represented schools that are part of a statewide experiment what's called the ``comprehensive high school approach,' McCrary said.

Those schools ``had asked people to teach what they call their 'nurturing classes,' and they didn't know what to do,' she said. ``There's no statewide curriculum.'

They don't call it a nurturing class at East Davidson, but it would be an appropriate name.

A team of faculty members identify the students most at risk of dropping out, basing their selections on based on attendance and discipline records and overall success at school, and place them in one of McCrary's classes for one period a day.

This year McCrary has about 45 students in four classes, which are is held in a closed-off section of hallway in the crowded school just south of Thomasville.

The students meet daily and earn elective credit for the course. It focuses on setting goals, learning to study and maintaining good attendance and behavior.

``We don't tell these kids, 'We think you're going to drop out,' ' said Sheila Mehrer, one of East Davidson's guidance counselors, as she explained the program. ``We say, 'We want you to be successful here.' '

The school's effort goes beyond the 45 students in McCrary's classes. Stricter absentee policies and a determined effort to reach every student who seems to be having a problem are also keys to its success.

``We have the best attendance in this school that we've ever had - 97.5 percent - and it's because students realized that we mean business,' said assistant principal Debbie Chance.

``Every faculty member adopts a high-risk student,' Chance said as she explained East's buddy system. ``They sign a commitment to work with this child.'

Getting together for at least a couple minutes a day eventually can open the door to troubled students.

``A lot of the at-risk kids have no one they can talk to,' Chance said.

As a backup to the buddy system, the school uses ``peer helpers,' students who are trained to be good listeners and good friends.

``Kids that don't listen to (teachers) or to the assistant principal, a lot of times they will listen to a peer helper,' Chance said.

Overseeing it all is SMART - the Student Management and Referral Team. It consists of Chance; McCrary; Mehrer and another guidance counselor, Brenda Titus; social worker Mary Stanford; and Doug Glasgow, the industrial education coordinator.

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