Harrisburg School District fighting dropout rates with new initiation ceremony


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A whirlwind school year and contentious school board led to a state takeover and new leadership in Harrisburg last school year.

In the ashes of what was, new leaders are introducing new ways to keep kids engaged all the way to graduation.

Tuesday night, ninth-graders from all three Harrisburg High School campuses were invited to the district’s first-ever candlelight initiation ceremony.

“We want our ninth graders and all students to know all things are possible,” said Dr. Janet Samuels, Harrisburg School District receiver.

“We want to keep all of them on the same path towards success, and for those who trip up, to know that we will catch them before they go into the cracks,” said Jaimie Foster, John Harris High School principal.

The district is building bridges over those cracks with events like an initiation ceremony. Each ninth-grader walked across the stage to take a Class of 2023 tassel — a preview and motivator for what’s to come.

“We want them to do their very best. So, in four years, we can do this all over again when they become graduates of Harrisburg High School,” Foster said.

“It’s very important that we throw out the safety net for students to let them know that they’re very important, very special and that we’re here to support them to ensure their success,” Samuels said.

This success is made possible by early intervention. Students are only three weeks into the school year but Samuels said ninth-grade is one of the most crucial years to prevent against dropping out.

“When you think about drop-out rates…ninth grade is when students make up their mind about moving forward,” Samuels said.

Both Samuels and Foster are somewhat of freshmen themselves. It’s both their first full school-year in their respective roles as district receiver and principal. They hope their examples show Cougars where to find their courage.

“We have a responsibility. It’s our moral imperative to let students know that they can be successful,” Samuels said.

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