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Black Community Opinions

Local Voices: Reducing The Dropout Rates

Several weeks ago, (August 17, 2017), I read the news headlines: “State confirms Norfolk schools ‘recycled’ students to boost SOL scores and tells division to stop.” The article told of the practice of removing struggling pupils from state-tested classes to prevent them from taking Norfolk’s Standard Of Learning (SOL) and other accreditation tests.

As a result, some students (low-achieving and high-risk) were encouraged to fail and/or fall behind academically their student peers. And, this “practice” has caused Norfolk’s SOL scores and school accreditation results to be questioned. Inasmuch, all of this leads me to discuss “means and ways for resolving the negative consequences of recycled, truant and dropout students.”

Let me begin the discussion by saying that dropouts should be a cause for concern from within and without the urban school setting. At many urban schools, 50 percent, and sometimes more, of the students who enter the ninth grade fail to graduate on time, and/or if at all. This is because many schools purposely under-count the number of students who dropout by reporting only those students who depart during their senior year.

Additionally, dropouts consist of more males than females; more Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans than Whites or Asian Americans; and more urban students than rural or suburban. Also at risk are teens whose parents lack high school diplomas or post-high school training; teens from single-parent homes; teens who do not receive consistent support and encouragement from family and community members; and teens who become parents.

Other than poverty, truancy is probably the strongest determinant of dropout. This concern is statistically supported by the reality that students who do not attend school on a regular basis fall behind in their schoolwork, which can eventually cause them to drop out of school.

Therefore, the urban schools’ priority should be focused on preparing vulnerable youth to successfully complete high school and beyond, thereby paving a pathway out of poverty and failure.

For this to happen, there needs to be an effective collaboration and cohesive partnership between community-based organizations and the schools. Among other things, this can be achieved by providing intervention and prevention support systems that empower youth. Included among these resources could be academic skill-building, tutoring in basic skills, study skills development, homework help, self-esteem enhancement, and the like.

Most education experts and academic scholars agree that reading comprehension is the key to learning and advancement. However, it has been noted (2015) by the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress that 12th-grader reading scores for Black students lag significantly behind those of white, Asian and Hispanic students, regardless of most economic-income levels. According to some national studies (Stanford University, University of Wisconsin, etc.), Black students are roughly 4 grades behind white students in reading comprehension assessment tests. (Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine, September 19-25, 2016) Believe me, there is truth and reality in the nursery rhyme of: “The more that I read, the more that I know. And, the more that I know, the more that I grow …” Truer words were never spoken. As others have said, “Once you learn to read, you will forever be free.”

To accomplish all of this, special attention must be given by the schools and communities to those youth who are at greatest risk and most disadvantaged for becoming recycled, truants and/or dropouts. These particular youth will need parenting skills for their parents and/or caregivers, psychological testing, academic evaluation, holistic counseling within the school setting, self esteem and motivational reinforcement, individual and familial empowerment, mentoring and tutoring, and the like. This will not be an easy task. But it can be done!

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The “school and community” collaboration and facilitation could include, but not limited to, the following components and strategies:
• Become tutors, mentors, counselors and facilitators for “our” children.
• Initiate in-house/intra-community efforts to significantly reduce recycling, truancy, dropouts, suspensions and expulsions.
• Devise a “village concept” for dealing with negative peer pressure, teenage pregnancy, fatherless homes, drug involvement, criminal activity, and a lack of positive role models.
• Gather the necessary internal/external resources and supplements (leadership, equipment, facilities, monies, volunteers, etc.) to “make it happen” for those most adversely affected and who need help the most.
• Organize civic, social, business, religious and government entities into task forces to deal with community-wide issues, particularly those involving at-risk youth, dysfunctional families, academic success, economic stability, and the like.

As Abraham Lincoln and others have so eloquently stated: “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” By putting our hearts, minds and backs into play, we can eliminate the individual barriers and eradicate the societal obstacles that debilitate us and deny our children. Together, we can do it!

John L. Horton resides in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to this newspaper.

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