Loudoun County’s Advisory Commission on Youth found the on-time graduation rate among Loudoun high schoolers slipped this year, but remained above state and national averages.
The commission’s report found that 4.5 percent of the class of 2017 did not graduate, compared to 3.7 percent the previous year. The commission also found student absenteeism has increased for two years—students missing 23 or more days of school increased by 80 percent, up to 6,519 students in the 2016-2017 school year.
“We don’t have the answers for why there’s a decreased graduation rate, or absenteeism, and we need to understand what’s causing these trends,” said Advisory Commission on Youth Chairman Jeff Goldman.
Youth reported the biggest challenges they face are cyber bullying and the prevalence of drugs. Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) worried that may be compounded by a peculiarity of Loudoun youth in the report—they use their smartphones on average 7.5 hours a day, fully 50 percent higher than the five-hour national average.
Although Loudoun’s youth, on average, tend to benefit from the county’s relatively high wealth and resources, and educationally achieve above state and national averages, the report found living in the fastest-growing county in Virginia can also have its costs.
“Loudoun’s youth often don’t have the stability of growing up with the same neighbors and classmates that could make them feel connected and safe,” the report reads. “Sometimes they go from school to school and see boundary changes and student transfers into and out of schools they attend. Growth results in overcrowded classrooms, temporary trailers, split feeders breaking up long standing scout troops only compound anxieties. These changes break down peer and role model protective factors more static communities enjoy.”
The report celebrated that Loudoun leaders have embraced its recommendation to include young people in designing youth programming, such as Youth Advisory Council, Step up Loudoun, Battle of the Bands, and the youth leadership programs of Loudoun Youth Inc.
However it also suggested expanding the Youth After School program to four more middle schools: J. Michael Lunsford in Chantilly, Sterling Middle in Sterling, and Stone Hill and Trailside Ashburn. The report says those are four of Loudoun’s most diverse middle schools.
The report also came with a number of recommendations, such as expanding Friday night teen centers from Cascades Library to rest of the county’s libraries and adding peer-to-peer substance abuse and binge drinking prevention in middle schools by way of high-school led prevention activities
“Our recommendations may sound similar to last year,” Goldman said. “Our premise has been that because of the rapid growth in Loudoun, services may not be keeping up with demand.” He said youth who don’t have a safe place to go during the “golden hours” after school from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday evenings “often slip through the cracks.”
He also encouraged county supervisors to fill out the commission’s ranks. It currently lacks representatives from the Blue Ridge, Broad Run, Catoctin and Leesburg electoral districts; five people from those districts have applied.