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September 25th, 2012
02:43 PM ET

PBS documentary 'Dropout Nation' follows students in Houston on the verge of dropping out

It’s a staggering number - but more than 3-million students each year - drop out of high school. Many students attend what have commonly been called, "dropout factories." There are about 1,500 "factories" nationwide where 60% or less of students graduate. In a new documentary, PBS's frontline spent time at one of the schools - sharpstown high school in Houston, Texas and followed four students on the verge of dropping out. Sharpstown high school principal Rob Gasparello and FRONTLINE producer Frank Koughan join “Starting Point” to discuss the students in "dropout factories" and the teachers, counselors and principals who wage a daily struggle to guide them to graduation day.

Gasparello says there are a lot of frustrated and angry students but “there are a lot of students who we sort of redirect that anger and get them back on track.” Koughan agrees but says he worries that he is “stacking the deck against Sharpstown by following especially problematic kids for the course of the documentary.” Koughan adds that the high school has “as many successes if not more.”

From his director’s point of view, Koughan says “it seems like 70–75% percent of the problems these kids are dealing with are all outside of school. They’re all home-life related work-life related” like gangs and drugs.

Gasparello says “despite the fact that kids come to us with lots of anger, poverty and lots of tough life situations - they can be successful.” The Sharpstown principal adds that having mentors at the school who care and connect with the children adds to his school’s behavioral turnaround rate.

FRONTLINE'S “Dropout Nation” premieres on PBS Tuesday, at 9pm ET/PT.


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