When the LAUSD rolled out its Diploma Project in August 2006, the goal was to track about 20,000 at-risk students – even so far as going to their homes to get acquainted with the kids and their parents. This year, district officials said they were able to reduce that to about 17,000 students. Ultimately, district officials hope to reduce the LAUSD’s dropout rate every year, including by 5 percent this year. District dropout rates have been estimated at anywhere from 23 percent to more than 50 percent. Under the program, the LAUSD has 80 Diploma Project advisers at 45 high schools and 34 middle schools to work with teachers and at-risk students to determine how to keep them in school – including through independent study, adult education classes or off-campus learning centers. “The message is come back. Come back to school,” Superintendent David Brewer III said. “Do not stay out there and become a statistic in our society.” At Watts’ Jordan High School, where the district held the press conference Monday morning, there were about 20 students that the dropout counselor was able to bring back to school. Rene Ahal, a diploma project adviser at Reseda High School, said the biggest challenge is that most at-risk students are so far behind in credits by the time they reach high school they feel helpless. But Ahal said most also don’t know about the options available to them – including making up credits at community college or adult school. And Ahal said she also talks to them about how much money they can make and what kinds of jobs they can aspire to with high-school degrees. “We expect to see changes, but the program’s only been in effect for the past year,” Ahal said. “Over time it’s going to make a big difference.” Saul Hernandez, 19, said that although he had trouble with drugs in the ninth and 10th grades, he realized he needed to graduate from high school to have a better future. Now, he said, he hopes to tell his story through the Internet to help others who aren’t sure whether they want to get a high school diploma. “I knew that if I wasn’t going to get a good education, I wasn’t going to make it in life,” said Hernandez, a father-to-be who wants to work at a body shop and will graduate in June. “It could make a change for other students. They can see us as an example to not be a dropout.” [email protected] (818) 713-3722160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! More than a year after rolling out a $10 million effort to keep at-risk students in school and re-enroll those who have left, Los Angeles Unified’s dropout rate has seen little improvement. But the nation’s second-largest school district announced Monday that it will expand its anti-dropout efforts to the Internet and radio airwaves and send even more counselors door-to-door. The new program – “My Future, My Decision” – is a broad effort that includes spots on KPWR-FM (105.9), a text-messaging campaign and interaction through popular social networking Web sites MySpace and Facebook. While district officials said they are still waiting for full-year dropout data to be released, the most recent numbers – which include two months under the anti-dropout campaign – show a dropout rate of 25.5 percent or about 1.4 percentage points higher than the year before. “We’re getting a lot of good information from principals and local district superintendents so I would expect to see the (dropout) numbers come down,” said Debra Duardo, the LAUSD’s director of dropout prevention and recovery. “We don’t have the statistics for this year to report to measure how successful it’s been. … We’ll see in a couple of months … the impact of their work.” Duardo said the dropout rate increased in the most recent measures because it was the first year in which the state’s Exit Exam was a requirement for graduation, so 12th-grade performance brought down the total average. The ninth, 10th and 11th grades all experienced significant improvements in the dropout rate, but 12th-graders had 52 percent more dropouts compared with the year before. District officials on Monday said they did not know how much the new efforts would cost, but said it would come out of the $10 million already allocated to the program.