If low-performing schools are theaters of war in the struggle against the dropout problem, then expect to see Grad Nation – the national dropout prevention campaign of America’s Promise Alliance – playing soon at a theater near you.
The campaign will focus largely on working with today’s fourth graders – known (hopefully, at least) as the Class of 2018 – providing them with the support they need from now on to graduate from high school on time.
The work will take place mostly in poor, minority communities that researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have identified as being home to one of the 2,000 lowest-performing high schools in the United States. These so-called “dropout factories” are said to account for roughly half of the nation’s dropouts.
Those were among the few details released Monday by America’s Promise Alliance chair Alma J. Powell and the organization’s founder, Gen. Colin Powell, at a national kickoff event for the next phase of the Grad Nation, which comes as the organization wraps up a series of dropout prevention summits around the nation.
The kickoff was headlined by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a block or so from the White House, which President Obama called a “fitting” venue because education is the means to a more competitive workforce and a better life.
“In order for Americans to compete and win in the 21st century, we need a highly educated workforce that is second to none,” the president said. Jobs, the president said, “will go to the people with the knowledge and skills to do them.”
Of course, it helps to have federal support – morally, monetarily and otherwise. But observers say success will depend not on holders of high office, but on the skills, talents and abilities of the frontline youth workers and volunteers.
“I don’t care how good an idea is. If the people executing something are mediocre, then guess what? The execution is going to be mediocre,” said Martin Hurwitz, founder of Habitude, a Florida-based nonprofit that provides academic tutoring and life skills in the Sarasota School District, which is home to one of the 2,000 low-performing high schools being targeted by America’s Promise.
Hurwitz, who is not affiliated with America’s Promise, said the early version of the organization’s anti-dropout campaign seems sound. However, he offered a few caveats about carrying it out:
* “Understand that even though you feel you’re bringing and providing a service to kids, they need to feel like you want them. They’re the ones that need to feel special because of your involvement.”
* “Start where the student is. Wherever the student is educationally and behaviorally, that’s where you begin.”
* “Be consistent. For the most part, expect to stay with the child through, ideally, the first year of college.”
Hurwitz says he keeps in contact with roughly 80 percent of the youths he works with in school through programs at the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota County.
America’s Promise has said its plan includes working with “a broad cross-sector of American individuals, organizations and corporations.”
Colleen Wilber, spokeswoman for America’s Promise, says the next phase of Grad Nation involves implementing action plans developed during the dropout summits the organization held over the past two years.
During his speech, Obama announced plans to invest $100 million in a College Pathways program meant to “promote a college readiness culture in high schools” through programs (such as the “early college” high schools) that allow students to earn a high school diploma and college credit at the same time.