A new community initiative is aiming to address the needs of those who have recently dropped out of school by connecting them to alternative educational options and post-secondary education. A partnership consisting of the Dubuque Community School District, Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC), and Project HOPE and its many partners will form a new “Re-engagement Center” based on best practices across the nation and coming after many months of planning on the local level.

The center will be focused on youth ages 16 to 21 who drop out from school each year, with an initial goal of re-engaging 25 percent of these students. Center staff will then work with individual students to develop a personalized plan for completing a high school diploma or GED and exploring options for further study.

“One drop out is too many,” said Shirley Horstman, director of student services for the Dubuque Community Schools. “This center will redouble our efforts in assisting drop outs in finding an educational option that works for them.”

While in the early stages, the project is gaining momentum. Through funding from the Dubuque Community School District dropout prevention funds, Tom Kershner was hired as the re-engagement coach. An experienced youth coach and Navy special operations veteran, Kershner will use his diverse skill set in counseling, leadership and management to get the center off the ground and begin recruiting students to utilize its services. In his work as a youth coach, he has served as a mentor of high school and college students while also counseling parents on student progress and strategies for communication. A portion of Kershner’s time will also be spent supporting residency checks within the school district. Kershner will be based at NICC’s Dubuque Center thanks to a memorandum of understanding between the school district and NICC.

“We are committed to working with our partners to provide the appropriate services to help these students attain more education and training so that better employment opportunities are available to them,” said Dr. Liang Chee Wee, president of NICC.

Statistics show that a drop out is twice as likely to have a job below the poverty guidelines. Upon completion of a high school diploma or GED, the average hourly earnings of an individual increases from $9.81 per hour to $13.66 per hour. This amount increases to $16.30 per hour with a post-secondary degree and to $25.97 per hour with an advanced degree.

“This center is an example of community partnership that connects individuals to community resources that will greatly improve the quality of life in our region,” said Eric Dregne, vice president of programs for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and a Project HOPE leader. “A more educated workforce is a stronger workforce and our entire community will see great benefits from the success of the center.”
For more information, contact the DCSD School and Community Relations Office at (563)552-3020.