Over 300 residents packed the auditorium of the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School on Dec. 6 as Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson, along with various school officials, led a dialogue on how to prevent youth from giving up on their education. The forum, part of the Boston Public Schools' "Graduation for All" campaign, was one of a series of community meetings designed to give parents and youth the opportunity to exchange ideas on what does or does not work in Boston's school system.
"Our overall goal is to eliminate gaps in achievement and increase the graduation rates," said Johnson. "We need to reach those kids who are ready to give up and help them see the relevance between their courses and their futures. It is important to have an ongoing partnership with the community so we can continue to put the pieces together. These forums help to both promote awareness to guardians, school staffs and students as well as recognize their concerns and advices. This is vital in order to collectively reach those students who need extra help."
Armed with statistics gained from a study conducted by the BPS Strategic Planning to Serve Off-Track Youth Committee, Johnson says the four-year graduation rate among Boston students is a "stagnant" 60 percent. The four categories of "at risk" youth described in the study includes: English learning students who enter the school system for the first time during high school; special education students; students with risk factors such as low attendance rate, failing multiple courses, two or more years overage; and first time ninth-grade students failing multiple courses.
According to interviews conducted by the BPS committee, parents and youth have recommended designing more in-school and after-school programs that help guide students in their academics. Students felt there was a lack of resources that provided them with internships, employment and scholarship opportunities. Many voiced their need for smaller schools that provide instructors the chance to focus more attention on individual students.
"No one wants to feel like they can slip through the cracks," said Ashley Jordan, a graduate of English High. "If students are made to feel like they are just another body at a desk then they will start to believe it. My older sister dropped out in the tenth grade and whenever you ask her why or try to encourage her to go back all she says is 'for what?' "It's sad and it's frustrating because schools are really failing to connect with so many kids," Jordan said.
Frank Barnes, special assistant to Johnson, said what is needed in school systems is accessibility and providing additional support.
"There are many types of students and we need to meet them where they are. Help transform them into adults that can succeed in the years after school. Any number of off-track youth is unacceptable, but last year nearly 1,900 students dropped out of school - that requires immediate action."
The final forum will take place from 6-8 p.m on Jan. 10 at East Boston High School, 86 White St. For more information call Frank Barnes at 617-635-9054.