PORTLAND – The city’s school district will hold its second annual Amnesty Day for dropouts on Saturday, hoping to build on the modest success of last year’s event.

The district has invited high school dropouts of all ages to attend a free welcome-back event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at King Middle School. Lunch will be served and door prizes will be awarded, including tickets to upcoming concerts by Taylor Swift and Wiz Khalifa.

The district has expanded its efforts to attract participants this year, reaching out to anyone who dropped out of high school and may be thinking about going back.

“It’s open to anyone,” said Beth Arsenault, alternative education director at Portland High School. “It could be someone who just retired and never got a high school diploma or a 16-year-old who can’t figure out why he can’t stay in school.”

School officials are trying to increase the high school graduation rate above 80 percent statewide and above 75 percent in Portland.

Sixteen people attended last year’s Amnesty Day, Arsenault said. Most of them were older teenagers or adults who were referred to adult education or other community resources to get their General Educational Development diplomas.

One of the high-school age students who attended last year’s Amnesty Day was Snow Le, who had dropped out of Portland High several times and was seeking a way back.

“I was nervous, but they made me feel at home,” Le said of last year’s Amnesty Day. “They had their arms wide open.”

After buckling down and completing a combination of alternative and regular courses, Le is set to graduate from Portland High in June.

“I’m excited and proud of the goals that I set and achieved,” Le said during a break from writing a speech for a public speaking course. “To anyone thinking about going back to school, I would say that Amnesty Day was a second chance for me and it could be for them, too.”

Arsenault said she employed new resources to promote this year’s Amnesty Day, including Portland High students who are working on a service-learning project and marketing students at the University of Southern Maine.

“The hardest part seems to be getting the word out to our target audience and making sure people understand what it’s about,” Arsenault said.

The event will be presented without pressure or judgment, she said. Participants can learn about various ways to earn a high school diploma through the school district and community agencies.

“There’s no judgment, and we need that to go both ways,” Arsenault said. “Whatever your experience with school was in the past, give us another chance.” 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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