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Multi-media campaign aims to prevent school dropouts

A young man named Larry, who pumps gas for a living, talks about how he dropped out when he was 16 and hasn't been able to find a higher-paying job because he never earned his high school diploma.

"I see that graduating is important, and I am going back," he says. "If you are thinking about dropping out, don't do it. Are you ready for the rest of your life?"

The public awareness ad is the first product of a $90,000, three-year campaign by the Jackson County Commission on Children & Families, KOBI-TV, the Rogue Valley Workforce Development Council and several other sponsors aimed at preventing students from dropping out of school or convincing them to return to school if they've already dropped out.

Called "Are You Ready?" the initiative includes television ads on KOBI-TV and a Web site with links to educational and social-service resources as well as volunteer opportunities for the community.

"The initiative is designed to increase the high school graduation rate and promote ongoing education, training and skill development," said Angie Curtis, director of Commission on Children & Families. "The strategies of the initiative are intended to complement the work of schools, programs and other community activities by increasing public awareness and engaging the broader community."

The initial ads focus on encouraging youth to finish high school, but later ads will encourage community members to volunteer and become involved in young people's lives.

"Seventy percent of people in Jackson County don't have school-age children," Curtis said. "That's a huge resource, and research shows that kids who are connected with caring adults do better in school."

The commission invested $15,000 in the initial seed funding for the media campaign after conducting a survey of Jackson County residents that indicated education was a primary concern. So far, the campaign has about $75,000 in additional regional sponsorships for the next three years.

The television spots could reach as many as 630,000 potential viewers in the KOBI-TV coverage area. Over the three years, a variety of spots will air about 6,600 times.

Jackson County had more than 300 dropouts in 2007-08, about 3.4 percent of high school students, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

Nationwide, about 1.3 million students won't graduate with their peers on time.

Nationally, the average annual income for a high school dropout was about $17,299 in 2005, compared to $26,933 for a high school graduate, $36,645 for a person with an associate's degree and $52,671 for a person with a bachelor's degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"One reason this initiative emerged is the impact of education on how Oregon is run from income tax revenue," Curtis said. "Education is something that touches everyone's lives."

On the Web: www.oregonruready.org.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.