Partnerships fight dropout rate

By Todd Cohen

Every 26 seconds, a child in the U.S. drops out of high school.

Marvin, a Forsyth County student, is not one of them, although he could have been.

In the 2009-10 school year, he was struggling through his second year of ninth grade at Glenn High School.

That year, through “Graduate. It Pays.”, a collaborative program that aims to improve the graduation rate for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, two corporate executives teamed up to provide Marvin with mentoring, guidance and support.

In addition to taking turns meeting with him at school for an hour a week, First Tennessee executive Duane Davis and former Wachovia executive Walter McDowell talked regularly with Marvin’s mother, teacher, principal and assistant principal to better track his progress and any problems he might be facing.

This year, Marvin was on track to receive a diploma along with fellow students who were in his original ninth-grade class.

“He most likely would have dropped out,” says Amy R. Mack, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Services, a partner agency in the dropout-prevention program. “But he’s on track to graduate.”

“Graduate. It Pays.” is one of several collaborative programs that are part of a larger effort known as the Community Education Collaborative that aims to increase the graduation rate in local schools to 90 percent in 2018 from 70.7 percent in 2007.

Among others, partners in the Community Education Collaborative the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, United Way of Forsyth County, Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, Winston-Salem Foundation, and Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

“Graduate. It pays.”, which pairs repeat and struggling ninth-graders with one-on-one mentors, is an umbrella effort that includes three programs.

Those include one-on-one mentoring for struggling or repeat, ninth-graders; graduation coaching for 10th and11th graders through Communities in Schools; and senior-academy mentoring for 12th graders coordinated by the Chamber.

Winston-Salem is one of a handful of communities in which local affiliates of United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters have teamed up to focus on dropout prevention and high school graduation programming.

One of those efforts is Graduating Our Futures, which provides year-long, one-to-one mentoring for students in middle schools with high dropout rates.

Other partners in that effort are Family Services, YMCA of Northwest North Carolina and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

“We know that a community working together is much more effective than working in silos,” Mack says. “Together, our networks can galvanize more of our local citizens to give, advocate and volunteer to make sure every child has a caring adult supporting his or her educational success in addition to other services the child may need to be successful in school.”

And to track the impact and effectiveness of the partnerships and other student-mentoring programs, United Way, Forsyth Futures and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are coordinating a project, funded by United Way and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, in which Big Brothers Big Sisters and four other agencies will share and have access to data on the services students are receiving, and on their academic performance.

“Through this project, we will be able to easily link a child’s academic data to the services they are receiving,” Mack says, “and, more importantly, we can use that data to inform mentors and other service providers about where a student is struggling, and help identify additional resources necessary for the child to be successful in school.”

The various collaborations seem to be paying off: At the end of the 2010-11 school year, the graduation rate had grown to nearly 79 percent.

And at Parkland High School, where the graduation rate was 65.8 percent in 2007, it had grown to 74.1 percent by the end of the last school year.

“The ability to have an adult in their life to help them sort through the challenges, to help them find opportunities, to believe in them, and to just care about them, helps them continue to move in the right direction,” says Cindy Gordineer, president and CEO of United Way of Forsyth County.


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