About 15,000 kids a year drop out of North Carolina schools. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the number is about 1,500. School social workers have long made house calls to many kids who simply stop showing up at school. They try to figure out why the child left, get them help, and show them ways they can catch up.
This is a sensitive situation. Imagine you're a kid who has given up on school and then a social worker shows up on your doorstep.
"I've had families look through the blinds and not come to the door," says Heidi Berger, a CMS social worker.
She's made these house calls for the past 15 years. Usually she calls ahead and often the family has second thoughts about talking to her.
"They think about it and don't want to talk about the issues or maybe they're scared with the title social worker of what I could do," says Berger.
She hopes that doesn't happen this time. Berger is here to convince a high school senior to come back to school. Superintendent Heath Morrison accompanies her on the visit.
It's a well-kept neighborhood of one-story houses in North Charlotte. They walk up to the house and knock a few times. But no one comes to the door.
A few minutes later the girl and her mother drive up to the house and invite the two in. They talk for about twenty minutes. Then Morrison and Berger come out.
"They've been through a lot," says Berger.
"There are a lot of family circumstances and life circumstances and they just have a lot on their plate. But they really understand the importance of getting the high school diploma and so they're willing to do the things that need to happen."
Kids who haven't missed too many days can often go back to school, enroll in the same classes, and take online recovery courses to get up to speed. Or they can take extra courses after school. CMS also has a center where students can learn at their own pace. But for teenagers who have missed a whole lot of school, the effort is to connect them to a community college to get a GED.
"If it was just the academic program, that would be the easiest part for us to solve, but it's not usually that cut and dry," says Morrison.
That's why school social workers often call in other agencies to help. Sometimes kids drop out to work. Other kids have a hard time keeping up with the rest of their class or they have problems with addiction or mental health.
"What often happens is we get them back into school and things are going well, but then the first time there's a stumbling block, then we revert back to some of the things that cause a young person to drop out," says Morrison.
The talk seems to have encouraged the girl. She has a request for Morrison and Berger. She wants her picture with them and she gets a hug, too.