Second Chance

By Lawrence Hardy

Seventeen and full of adolescent bluster, Michael expounds on his career goals: Definitely pro sports, he tells the class. Baseball. Basketball. Maybe football -- cornerback, of course. A skill position, where speed and agility count more than size.

Michael Garcia doesn't have a football player's body -- not a lineman's, not a cornerback's. He's 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighs 120 pounds, and still has the round, cherubic face of a child. He doesn't play on his high school football team; he doesn't go to regular school. He was kicked out of Brockton (Mass.) High last year for smoking and fighting. His chances of playing pro football are about as good as his chances of winning the Massachusetts Lottery.

"I want my son to become a professional football, baseball, or basketball player," says Michael, musing about more distant dreams. "I want my daughter to become a model."

Michael's odd mix of street smarts and naivete might seem endearing if his situation weren't so desperate. A student at Brockton's Champion Charter School for dropouts, he doesn't have a lot of time to grow up and turn his life around. He is one of thousands of dropouts across the country, whose ranks, some researchers say, are vastly underestimated -- and growing.

They're being pushed out by high-stakes tests they can't pass and by large, impersonal high schools they can't tolerate. They're bright students, like Michael, who has already passed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), and academically stunted adolescents who can barely read at a second-grade level. They're in your school systems, and they need your help. 

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