중앙데일리

A little support goes a long way

Creative new program helps disadvantaged teenagers succeed

Feb 14,2015
Students in the school’s Wind Orchestra meet during school breaks to rehearse. Principal Choi In-seop, center, came up with the idea to organize the club to help decrease the student drop-out rate. By Kim Seong-tae
For a long time, when students skipped class at Mokchon High School, it generally came as no surprise to educators.

A total of 337 students dropped out of the school between 2009 and 2013. In 2013 alone, 67 students left the institute, which had a 600-person student body.

The high school is located in a small rural town, some 30 minutes away from downtown Cheonan, in South Chungcheong. But because of its remote location, those who failed to get a spot in the high schools downtown primarily ended up attending it.

Many of the students are disadvantaged. They come from dysfunctional families or their grades are too low to get into college.

But the institute experienced a drastic change last year - not a single student dropped out.

That success was largely due to Choi In-seop, the school’s new principal who worked to transform the status quo.

He formerly worked as a school inspector in charge of personality development at the South Chungcheong Office of Education.

“If students wander outside of school, they lose opportunities to develop their personalities and social skills,” he said. “So keeping students in school was the first priority in terms of personality development. Rather than forcing them to study, I wanted to look for ways to have them foster a sense of community.”

As soon as the semester began last year, Choi opened what he termed the Nuri Spring Program targeting 74 students who were absent from class five days or more in 2013.

Instead of regular classes, the students learned vocational skills, like barista techniques and cosmetology. The program also offered other activities like hiking and volunteer opportunities.

Because the course offered students more control over their curriculum, it gave them more incentive to show up.

Sophomore Hur Ji-eun originally had little motivation to attend class last year. With a bedridden father and a working mother, she skipped more than 30 days of school last year. But her attitude slowing began to change after she participated in the spring program, in which she volunteered and learned how to cook.

“Once I started to find school interesting, I actually wanted to go,” she said.

Last September, Hur completed the spring program and began taking regular classes. During vacation, she remained at school to study.

Among 177, she originally ranked 130th, but leaped to 19th place last semester.

“I used to hate going to class, but now I long to go to school, actually. I also have a new dream - to become a teacher.”

The program has also helped other students who frequently missed class, and school violence has decreased, according to a survey conducted by the school in 2014 that polled students there.

In the poll, the percentage of students who said they had experienced school violence decreased, from 35 percent in 2013 to 22 percent last year.

Choi has also turned to the local community for support, reaching out to local volunteer groups that work with the local government’s crime prevention unit in Cheonan.

Currently, 80 people work as student mentors.

Apart from the Nuri Spring Program, Choi additionally organized other organizations for students focused on the fine arts, including a student orchestra. The goal is similar: to nurture a sense of community by working together.

“I learned how to interact and communicate with my fellow players in the orchestra,” said Hong Eun-gi, a freshman who plays the trumpet in the Wind Orchestra.

Based on the changes Choi brought to Mokchon, the number of applicants exceeded the number of seats for the first time this year.

Maximum capacity for the incoming freshman class at the high school is 180 students.

He added that he plans to expand the program and work toward enhancing the basic academic abilities of the students in the program.

BY KIM BANG-HYEON [ypc3c@joongang.co.kr]







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