Rock Hill back on 'best' list for young people

Rock Hill reclaimed a place on the "100 Best Communities for Young People" list this year, earning praise for its focus on volunteerism and mentoring, student test scores and partnerships with local clubs and agencies.

The award comes from America's Promise, an alliance of nonprofit, corporate and civic groups brought together by Colin Powell in 1997. Some 300 communities applied, and this year marks the school district's second appearance after debuting in 2006.

Local leaders touted the honor as a sign that Rock Hill is a good place to raise a family.

"This is really an impressive accomplishment, I think," said Mayor Doug Echols. "While we're here to celebrate, we all know there is much yet to be done. And we'll continue to work on that."

Left unsaid at an announcement party on Monday were a number of distinctions that represent less cause for celebration. Among them:

• One in five Rock Hill children younger than 18 are deemed as living below the poverty line, according to the most recent Census figures. Overall, the city's poverty rate is 14 percent.

• Forty-six percent of children qualify for free or reduced lunches.

• Fifty percent of local Hispanic and English as a Second Language students drop out before finishing high school. About 800 Hispanic students are enrolled. The district's overall dropout rate is 4.5 percent.

Dropout rate enters spotlight

At Rock Hill's Confederate Park on Monday afternoon, some insights into the dropout trend could be gleaned from teens such as Veneton Smith. A 10th-grader at Rock Hill High School, Smith said he makes good grades and hopes to play varsity football next year as a wide receiver. But he has a cousin who recently dropped out.

"He said he can't work and go to school at the same time," said Smith as he waited to join a 5-on-5 pickup basketball game at the park.

Smith explained the spiral that leads students to drop out: Early on, they come to class but get frustrated and tune out their teachers. Then they fall behind on their work, and teachers don't have enough time to help them catch up. After a while, they just stop showing up.

District Superintendent Lynn Moody and Echols will soon create a committee to look deeper into the dropout rate and how to solve it, Moody announced Monday. The pair plan a dropout prevention summit during the spring or summer.

"There is still much work to do," Moody said.