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September 28, 2000

UMBC Shriver Center's Choice Middle Schools Program Chosen as One of Nation's Best

Baltimore, MD – The UMBC Shriver Center's Choice Middle Schools Program has been chosen to receive a National Dropout Prevention Network's Crystal Star Award of Excellence in Dropout Recovery, Intervention and Prevention.

The award will be presented during the 12th annual National Dropout Prevention Network Conference in Baltimore, Oct. 1-4. UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski will be one of the keynote speakers during the conference.

The Choice Middle Schools program was chosen for this award “because it demonstrated clear evidence of strong leadership in furthering the mission of the National Dropout Prevention Network,” according to the selection committee. The National Dropout Prevention Network is based at Clemson University and works to provide resources that enable a new or enhanced appreciation for the importance of a quality education and a high school diploma.

The Choice Middle Schools program, established in 1993, reaches out to young people at risk of school dropout before they get into trouble. The program was modeled after the center's successful Choice Program, which was founded by Mark K. Shriver in 1987. The $2 million project has attracted support from the Maryland State Department of Education, the St. Paul Foundation and each of the four jurisdictions – Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Cecil County, Montgomery County – in which it operates.

The program served nearly 450 students at 11 area middle schools this past academic year. Caseworkers provide round-the-clock intensive support, immerse themselves in the young person's environment and get to know the family, the teachers and the community.

The U.S. Department of Education has stated the biggest indicator of school dropout is poor attendance. “Our program's impact here is clear,” says Leigh Higgins, director of the Choice programs. She adds that over the past three years, 70 percent of the students in the Choice Middle Schools program improved their attendance. Gains have also been consistently shown in the areas of GPA, while decreases have been shown in disciplinary referrals and out-of-school suspensions. And, a recent evaluation led by UMBC psychology professor Ken Maton, found improvement in the areas of self-esteem, peer relationships and school bonding. “We work very hard to get the students to school, keep them in school, and support the teacher's task of engaging the students in their education,” says Higgins.

She adds of the National Dropout Prevention Network award, “We are thrilled to be recognized on a national level for a program that we have known for years is having a very positive impact.”

John Martello, Shriver Center founder, executive director and vice provost for community partnerships, agrees. “We are delighted to have received this award because it underscores the value and importance of our innovative approach to dropout prevention,” says Martello "Choice Middle Schools has demonstrated that a community-based, family centered intervention which combines intensive supervision, advocacy and a strong educational component can help children improve their attendance and academic performance. We are grateful to the National Dropout Prevention Network for selecting us for this important recognition.”

For more information on the National Dropout Prevention Network and its conference, go to their website at


Posted by dwinds1 at September 28, 2000 12:00 AM