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Pedal Power

Most Arizonans are not sure what to do about their growing concern over the state's school dropout rate, which is one of the highest in the nation.

Then there's Rep. Robert Meza, who isn't about to take the situation lying down.

The Phoenix Democrat plans to bike nearly 3,000 miles this summer from Seattle to Washington, D.C., in an effort to raise public awareness about the issue, and to promote a local YMCA dropout-prevention program in Arizona called i-Learn.

"We're one of the fastest-growing states in the country, but we're leading in a lot of places we shouldn't," said Mr. Meza.

Many students, he said, drop out to help support their families.

As for i-Learn, it is being piloted in Maricopa County and targets high school dropouts and students who are at risk of dropping out. Participating students are offered a series of interactive classes via computer in all core curricular areas. Through the classes, the students are able to earn credits toward high school diplomas from the 21,000-student Chandler Unified School District.

Mr. Meza and YMCA board member Mike Snitz are scheduled to start pedaling their bikes July 1 and aim to reach the nation's capital by Aug. 5. They plan to meet with members of the U.S. Congress after they arrive to discuss possible solutions to the state's dropout problems. In particular, he hopes to meet with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn. Mr. Meza is running the senator's 2004 presidential campaign in Arizona.

"We're up against the wall in Arizona," said Mr. Meza.

To date, he's raised $25,000 for the i-Learn project, but hopes to amass a total of $50,000 before leaving on his trek, and eventually find enough support to take the program nationwide.

Arizona's dropout rate is nearly twice the national average. Only 73.5 percent of Arizona students complete high school and only half of all Hispanic students receive a diploma.

And the escalating dropout rate spells real trouble, according to Mr. Meza, who said the future economic repercussions could be severe.

"Companies will not want to settle in Arizona if they look at the job pool and don't find [educated] employees," he said.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Vol. 22, Issue 36, Page 17

Published in Print: May 14, 2003, as State Journal

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