For Penn Manor, One is Too Many

By Becca Hess –

Last fall J.J. Mowery was thinking about dropping out from Penn Manor.  A junior, Mowery was one of a handful of kids who teeter on the edge  every year- close to graduation but feeling like they are far from finishing.

“I have four jobs,” said Mowery. “I work on three different farms and I work with my dad.”

Mowery doesn’t know if he sees the point in finishing high school when he can make a living working right now.

He feels that school is holding him back from making money and that having a high school diploma is not necessary for him to succeed in life. He recalls during eighth grade he would be working so much that he neglected his homework and he had to repeat the grade.

Across the state, graduation rates have been stuck around the 80 percent mark and, although Penn Manor’s is much better, more than 97 percent each year, the kids who do drop out not only hurt themselves, they can reflect poorly on the school especially now that the state is calculating graduation rates a different way.

“We make it as hard as humanly possible for them to dropout,” said Penn Manor guidance counselor Melissa Otrowski.

Otrowski explained that Pennsylvania’s state government has changed to a cohort system mandating that schools start with a freshmen class and have to track all of those ninth graders for four years. Moving schools, transferring to cyber or twilight school, health issues or going to rehab all effect this formula.

“Sometimes things happen that are legit, but they hurt us,” said Ostrowski.

Pennsylvania has compulsory education. This means one must attend school through the age of 16. Once a student reaches age 17, they are legally able to sign themselves out of school.

Ostrowski said that there are  underlying causes as to why students dropout or at least attempt it.

According to many child behavioral experts, a range of factors may increase a student’s risk of dropping out, including high rates of absenteeism, low levels of school engagement, low parental education, work or family responsibilities, problematic or deviant behavior, moving to a new school in the ninth grade, and attending a school with lower achievement scores.

So how does a school keep kids from dropping out?

Penn Manor has a few tricks up their sleeve. They have backup plans which give students who are considering dropping out more options.

Options like, cyber (online) or twilight( night) school as well as the Lancaster County Academy located in Park City Mall. All of these are great options for students. They are a non traditional way of school and still allow them to get the necessary credits they need to graduate and receive a diploma.

“The key, is options,” Ostrowski said.

These options are not the only factor in making sure students stay in school, she said. Penn Manor has a plan known as the Truancy Elimination Plan or the TEP.

“The TEP is developed cooperatively with involved stakeholders through a school-family conference, which is required after the first unlawful absence. Teachers are the first line of defense,” according to the Pennsylvania Truancy Toolkit.

Another key aspect in keeping students in school are the teachers, coaches and club advisers, said Ostrowski.  Having kids connecting with caring adults who will put in that extra effort to make them feel like they belong.

“It’s all about the teachers in the classrooms knowing their kids. That’s dropout prevention,” said Otrowski.

“More high school students across the country are graduating on time but dropouts continue to be a significant national problem,” according to a report in the Washington Post.

Not having a high school diploma, can make life more challenging. As the workplace is becoming more demanding and havinghigher expectations for potential employees, those without a high school diploma don’t really have a high change of getting a great job.

According to points in a report by the Massachusett’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education:

  • Dropping out of school impacts student’s self esteem and psychological well-being, faced with the reality that they lack skills and knowledge to fulfill their desires.
  • Earnings for young men and women who quite school have steadily declined over the past three decades. In 1971 male dropouts earned an estimated $37,087, which decreased by 35 percent to $23,902 in 2002.
  • In 2001, 45 percent of adult high school dropouts were unemployed compared to 26 percent of high school graduates and 13 percent of graduates from a four-year college.
  • Dropouts are substantially more likely to rely on public welfare and health services.
  • Dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated during their lifetime.
  • 90 percent of the 11,000 youth in detention facilities have no more than a ninth grade education.
  • Dropouts cost the U.S. more than $260 billion in lost wages, tax revenue, and productivity over their life times.

“Young people who drop out of high school are unlikely to have the minimum skills and credentials necessary to function in today’s increasingly complex society and technology-dependent workplace.  The completion of high school is required for accessing post-secondary education, and is a minimum requirement for most jobs,” according to

According to a recent report by Education Week, Children Trends Database:

  • 8,300 kids drop out of high school in the U.S. each day, that’s 3,030,000 kids each year.
  • High school dropouts are ineligible for 90 percent of U.S. jobs.
  • A high school graduate will earn on average, at least $260,000 more then a high school dropout over their career. also explained how the economic value of having a high school education. According to the U.S. Census Bureau  In 2009, adults ages 25 and older who had dropped out of school or had not acquired a GED earned up to 41 percent less than those who had completed high school or had GEDs.

“You’re up against some significant barriers without a degree,” said Ostrowski. “It affects everything. If you can’t support yourself, someone has to.”

According to,  the overall dropout rate has declined since the 1980s, falling from about 14 percent in 1980 to 8 percent in 2008. It also noted how there are some differences in dropout rates among different ethnic groups.

“The dropout rate for white students in 2008 was 4.8 percent, compared to 9.9 percent among African-American students, and 18.3 percent for Hispanic students,” from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Despite the facts that those who dropout will earn less money overall during their lifetime and that some become reliant on other or the government for aid, Penn Manor junior JJ Mowery is not yet sure what he will do.

His parents, friends and teachers are all encouraging him to stay in school and receive his diploma. He explained how there isn’t really a deciding factor in his case, regarding whether or not he will drop out. Something drastic will have to happen for it go one way or the other.

Mowery also plans to start his own business in excavating.

“You don’t need a diploma to run your own business, you just need to be good enough,” said Mowery.



3 thoughts on “For Penn Manor, One is Too Many”

  1. I still see JJ in school but I don’t know where he currently stands on the matter.

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