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Days spent dispensing words of wisdom

As supervisor of Student Support Services and Compliance in the Buffalo public schools, John Crabbe sees a lot of 17-year-olds who are leaving high school. To get their full-time working papers and take the GED test, these teens visit his City Hall office for an exit conference.

Crabbe, 57, of Buffalo, takes this opportunity to share a bit of advice with them.

>Are these 17-year-olds dropping out for financial reasons?

No. Most of the students who are coming here have not been successful in high school, so once they've gotten to the age of 17, when they can legally drop out, if they haven't earned that many credits some of them choose to leave school and begin work.

>How many 17-year-old dropouts do you see in a year?

Last year we did maybe 350. Now remember, these are just the 17-year-olds. Theoretically, nobody younger than 17 would drop out, and the 18-year-olds don't need working papers, so they don't come down here.

>What do you say to a 17-year-old who's dropping out?

I tell them, "What I know you can learn in high school, and if you haven't learned it in high school, then learn it now. ... how to work hard. Because if you don't learn that, I think you have a difficult time in life."

>Do you think they listen?

I think some of them do. I also think that the parent is looking for somebody to reinforce what they have been saying. A lot of parents that we deal with tell us, "I've tried this, I've tried that," and it hasn't worked. We can tell them stories about people who have succeeded -- or the people who haven't succeeded.

I used to work in City Court for the Board of Education, working with students 15 to 19 who'd been arrested. And once they get into the court system, they are in the court system for a long time.

So I ask students, "Is that what you want for your life?" and nobody says yes. So I say: "Well, good. You don't want it, your mother is here, she doesn't want it, I don't want it, nobody wants it. But you're the only one who can prevent it."

>How do parents react?

My experience has been that most parents are willing to talk to you, willing to share some things with you, and some of the time, parents will say, "Well, I wasn't aware how bad the situation was." Attendance in general doesn't get the attention that other topics get, but from my perspective, if we don't have children in school, all these other good programs are not going to be successful.


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