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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Making a difference in kids' lives

I saw a terrific video on Facebook this morning of a young woman reading a poem she'd written called The Lost Generation. I encourage you to watch it.

The poem is a plea for adults not to write this generation of kids off as a hopelessly lost cause. Instead, she says in a hip-hoppy rhythm, give young people the nurturing and support they need to grow into the people they can and truly want to be.

A recent assignment has allowed me to talk to some adults who have done just that.

The Arkansas Community Foundation, which supports amazing work in towns and cities throughout the state, focuses on improving education as one of its seven pillars.  As part of that focus, the Foundation wanted an article about improving graduation rates for this summer's issue of Engage, the organization's magazine.

My graduate degree is in data-based journalism, so I started my research with graduation rate data obtained from the Arkansas Department of Education. I compared rates from 2010 to 2012 (the most recent available) to find those high schools where graduation rates spiked the most.

I have to say, there's no better feeling for a data-based journalist than when the "shoe-leather" reporting so completely bears out what the statistics show. And this was certainly the case here, as the data  pointed to real efforts to help students stay in and graduate from high school.

Without giving too much away, I interviewed leaders at three of the school districts where the graduation rates increased the most between 2010 and 2012.

At each one, school leaders had made concerted efforts to improve students' academic performance and, in turn, graduation chances and future opportunities. Sure, changes were made in the classroom in terms of instruction and curricula and credit-recovery opportunities. But the larger themes running throughout the interviews included the importance of:
  • Spending time with students to let them know they and their futures mattered and that success was expected of them.
  • Providing opportunities for students to realize they really, really could pursue a future that included college, technical school, the military or a job with a career path.
  • Involving parents and community in efforts to keep students on target for graduation.
No doubt, strong, determined and caring leadership made all the difference in the world at these schools. The stories illustrate it. The data prove it. The poem's author begs for it.


He who opens a school door, closes a prison. -Victor Hugo, poet, novelist, and dramatist (1802-1885)













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