HHS Night School Option Reverses Dropout Choice by Student

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini listens to Chris Garcia as the Haverhill High School senior discusses why he was on the verge of quitting school during his sophomore year. (WHAV News photograph.)

Chris Garcia is graduating from Haverhill High School this year. It may seem like a common feat, but Garcia almost became a drop out statistic two years ago.

During a student focus group with Mayor James J. Fiorentini Wednesday, at Haverhill High School, Garcia said he was on the verge of quitting.

“My whole high school career wasn’t the best. You know, I came in high school really confident that I would be able to do it and, you know, I ended up breaking. I couldn’t keep up. I fell behind and I was considering dropping out my sophomore year.”

Luckily for Garcia, a high school guidance counselor intervened, preventing him from becoming part of, what the state said last year was, Haverhill’s 14.1 percent dropout rate. His guidance counselor explained the high school’s night classes might be an answer.

“Night school has changed not only my life, but my life here in high school,” said Garcia, adding,  “I came back from having not even seven credits in my sophomore year to having almost 20 credits my senior year. I’m going to pass. I’m going to do this. I’m going to get my diploma.”

Haverhill educators have previously cited transient students—those who pop in and out of schools as family situations require—as having a more difficult time keeping up and passing standardized tests. Garcia’s story seems to support the hypothesis. His path to Haverhill High School wasn’t straight forward. He began middle school at Consentino School, but ended up moving to Florida and attending Deltona middle school. Upon his return to Haverhill, Garcia then completed middle school at Nettle. Attending night school, he was able to catch up and pass the MCAS test. Unlike students who work after school, he has a job before school at G. Mello Disposal in Georgetown.

Haverhill School Superintendent James F. Scully said Garcia’s story isn’t unusual, but success requires schools to make connections with students.

“Everything you do is a hook. You’ve got to hook kids in. And this is a student, today, that wasn’t going to make it. We had programs. We had the people that could hook him. Even the most accomplished student at the high school kind of has a focus on where they’re going,” Scully explained.

Haverhill High School Principal Beth Kitsos said she picked an “eclectic set of kids” to tell their stories. Keeping students in school, she said, requires a teacher to engage them.

Fiorentini said he frequently relies on school focus groups for information and was pleased by what he heard. “I was particularly interested in the Garcia boy who was going to drop out of school and was given a second chance by our night school program. He’s so proud he’s going to graduate.”

Mayoral intern Aubrie Campbell, who graduated from Haverhill High last spring, helped arrange Wednesday’s focus group. She served as her class president all four years and participated in the Early College program, which allows students to take courses at Northern Essex Community College while still in high school. Like Garcia, the high school program changed her educational path.

“Instead of going off to a university, I decided to complete my associates degree at Northern Essex, so I’m graduating this spring,” she said.