BROOKSVILLE, Florida -- More than 16,000 students dropped out of school in Florida last year, and while the numbers have gone down over recent years, any educator will tell you even one child dropping out is too much.
There's a special program in Hernando County working to keep kids in school, but helping with so much more.
"We believe in you! Do you?"
It's a simple, yet meaningful message that greets students daily at Central High School in Brooksville. Principal Joe Clifford says it's really all about empowering children and building their confidence. "I think when they see that other people care about them, that there's an investment in them, that they're more inclined to believe in themselves," he says.
This is the second year Central has been part of the Communities in Schools of Hernando County program, which is also in place at Hernando High.
Joseph Katz serves as a student liaison. He helps identify students who might be at risk for dropping out, as well as bridging the gap between teens and adults.
"If kids are less focused on school, they're more likely to drop out," says Katz.
But there's more to this than identifying students at-risk for dropping out. Program President Tracy Echols says her group's help goes way beyond the classroom.
"There's mentoring," she says. The group has also helps students with fees, clothing, and whatever else they need to help them be successful.
Echols adds, "We do [everything] possible to help any school that needs our help, even outside of our two schools. Anytime I get a call or become aware of an at-risk student, I do what I can to make myself available to speak with him/her and see what we can do to connect the student with resources that could help them."
Right now, there is a jacket drive underway at Central and Hernando High until the end of January. From January 8 - January 31, people can drop off new or slightly used items in good condition at Central High School, 14075 Ken Austin Pkwy., Brooksville FL 34613 or Hernando High School, 700 Bell Avenue, Brooksville, FL 34601 between the hours of 9 a.m. - 3 p.m., Monday - Friday. Donations can also be made at www.cishernando.org.
Nationwide, Communities in Schools has had incredible success. In 2011, 84 percent of students were promoted to the next grade, 88 percent of seniors graduated on time, and 87 percent of students reduced their high risk behavior.