Battling High School Drop Outs

Fact:  Indiana determines how much prison space it will need in 15 years by measuring our 3rd graders’ test scores.  That is scary. We’ve heard this in the past from United Way and this was effectively used on the front of a nice communications (and fundraising) piece from Shepherd Community Center  that I received this month.

This is a very convincing reminder of the importance of education, but it’s a lot more than that.  Shepherd and Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center both have track records that show they are making an impact on these stats.  The average students in the public high schools (Indianapolis Public Schools–IPS) in their communities are graduating at less than 50% (high school). When I speak with people at Shepherd they say it’s pretty common for almost every student in IPS schools to be failing about one class. And that’s including the kids who will still graduate! Our urban IPS is like an extremely leaky water faucet where half of the students aren’t graduating. They are just getting pumped into our shared communities.

Immigration and immigration reform are a huge spotlight right now and a full reality — and a part of this equation. Yet, these people are woven into the fabric of our communities and society – and we need to make sure they are fed, educated, and cared for. I think many of you leave this up to voting for our elected officials  hoping that’ll do it. Shepherd raises all their funds from private donors. not from government grants.  Mary Rigg does receive some government grants, but private donations are critical.

The Bright Spots
 —  there are a couple of specific places making a huge impact – the students who are involved in the Horizon Christian School at Shepherd Community Center high school program and students involved in the George Washington Community High School (a Mary Rigg collaborative) – their students are graduating at a rate around 84% for Shepherd and above 70% for George Washington.

But it isn’t just about going to class, studying, and having quality teachers (or adequate even). Those are vital components for sure. The success-story students are getting people to pay close attention to them. In my experience, the parents in the struggling areas of town aren’t fully equipped to hold their children accountable nightly to make sure they achieve academically at a decent level, let alone, a high level.

There was an opinion piece this month in the Indianapolis Business Journal about baby boomers vacating skilled-worker jobs in key manufacturing areas. It speaks about the opportunity for the urban poor to fill these jobs, but indicates that “Indiana has failed to produce enough high school graduates with the basic skills for such jobs”.  Based on IPS graduation rates, one might understand. The author works for a group called Local Initiatives Support Corp. That has adopted a new strategy “to connect the people and places of urban Indianapolis to the growing economic opportunities of our region”.  I agree with their plan that says we need to “adopt new and bigger approaches to educations, employment, business development if we are to connect more urban citizens to opportunity.”

Maybe this still leaves you at “what should I do about it?” — Get involved in something that directly is impacting the success of your urban schools.  For example, please donate to Shepherd (Donate) and Mary Rigg (Donate) as one of the direct ways you can improve Indianapolis and central Indiana.  I believe for central Indiana, this is the largest problem we have – multiple thousands of non-graduating youth dropped into the landscape each and every year — and the school system is not entirely to blame. We can all make a tangible difference – so please get involved with (or support) groups like the above that are (a) feeding kids, (b) educating, (c) creating visions of hope .

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