• School dropouts often lack personal connection, panelists say

    In Education

    By Dale Singer, Beacon staff

    9:18 pm on Mon, 09.16.13

    Many of the factors typically cited for dropout problem in American schools – money, overcrowding, poverty, testing – came up during a live television town hall Monday night, but the one that seemed to resonate most was more personal than institutional.

    Students, teachers and others said during the broadcast originating at the Nine Network in St. Louis that too often, kids leave high school before they graduate because they don’t really have any adults who understand them and to whom they can relate.

    Student Marquee Banderet put it this way:

    “Some kids have no interest in learning because they have no relationship with their teachers.”

    Discussing peers who were no longer attending class, another student added:

    “A lot of them had the impression that when they left school, nobody even knew that they had left.”

    The town hall meeting, hosted by Ray Suarez of PBS, was the latest program in the American Graduate effort, designed to help keep students in school. The show noted that the graduation rate for U.S. students is the highest since 1974, but there still is a dropout every 26 seconds – more than 100 during the hour-long broadcast.

    Suarez, his guests on the podium and the parents, business people, educators and students in the audience talked about the reasons the issue was so hard to solve. They were joined by people on Twitter, using the hashtag #amgradstl.

    How can teachers make sure they are providing students with the support they need, both educational and emotional, particularly when financial pressures are leading in many places to larger classes?

    Teachers who responded said it depends on how much support they themselves can get from the administrators in their building. Elizabeth Bender, principal of Gateway STEM High School agreed, saying that the pressures that teachers feel is “immense.”

    “The stories from my students are enough to bring me to tears at any moment,” Bender added.

    One hero of the broadcast was Charlie Bean, a dropout tracker for the St. Louis Public Schools, who has brought back more than 80 students over the past two years. He said the key was speaking the truth to students, giving them a blueprint to follow, and making sure they stick to it.

    “If you give them certain steps,” he said, "they’re going to follow those steps you give them. You just keep pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing.”

    One of his success stories, Malik Avery, said that Bean “was the first person honestly since seventh grade who wanted to know what was going on in my life….

    “If I needed help, he would be there. If I needed support for something, he would be there. That kind of connection makes a student want to go to school.”

    SheRon Chaney, the parent of four children, said that she wants teachers to support and carry on the work she starts with her kids at home. But she also acknowledged that in some respects, the relationship her children have with their teachers may be deeper than what she has. She said of her daughter:

    “There were things she would tell her teacher that she would never tell me, and I’m comfortable with that.”

    Mike Jones, of the Family and Workforce Centers of America, urged businesses and others outside of school to step up and do their part to help solve the dropout problem as well.

    “I think the community is the biggest aspect that is missing,” he said.