YouthBuild Charter School supports at-risk students

Philadelphia Youth Build Charter School students Niagera Harris, left, Destiny Hall and Larry Mason complete a class assignment. — Photo from Philadelphia Youth Build Charter School

High school students at highest risk of dropping out now have access to the strongest support systems ever developed in public schools, resulting in millions more students graduating to brighter futures.

Sarah Peterson, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Youth Build Charter School with vocational training, emphasis on college and career readiness, said many students drop out to help with family obligations, often due to pregnancy, job loss, prolonged sick leave, disruptive behavior that could result in expulsion, suspension or juvenile detention.

“Sometimes, it’s not as simple as waking up and saying, ‘I’m not going to school anymore.’ It’s a fading out process,” she said.

High quality programs and options in alternative high schools have become a key strategy in persuading at-risk student populations to complete the requirements for high school graduation as the Philadelphia public school system implements dropout prevention strategies that are part of a trend in public education across the country.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Education statistics reported the nation’s latest high school graduation rate reached 81 percent. That’s the highest level since the calculating method was changed five years ago.

For the last nine straight years, the city’s high school rate rose from 59 percent, in 2002-03, to 65 percent, in 2010-11, the latest year for which statistics are available, according to the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office on Education.

By comparison, YouthBuild charter school has a 75 percent graduation rate.

Peterson said school staff works on showing students their diploma is much more than a credential to be framed and hanged on the wall, but a springboard for launching successful career and becoming life-long learners.

Timing is also of paramount importance, she said.

Many students face adult responsibilities or personal difficulties that can change their life in a significant way. Returning to school doesn’t necessarily mean every students will stay in school until graduation because many of the roadblocks that caused them to go off track are often still present.

She said school staff steers students toward the resources and support they need to earn their diploma or general equivalency degree. The school provides multiple pathways of support including the job of case managers who can refer them to appropriate services, mentoring and peer support.many come to Youth Build fully motivated.

“They’re very motivated. We have that working in our favor to begin with,” Peterson said.

The idea is to teach students how to sharpen their skills in overcoming personal challenges and problem-solving while developing resiliency.

“When schools are held accountable and students are given support to help them stay in school and on track, real progress is possible,” said John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, an advocacy group for on-time high school graduation. “Looking forward, we will focus on what more can be done so that all young people have the foundation they need to succeed in school and life.”

Students involved with social services, behavioral health agencies or the court system are considered among vulnerable student populations. The report recommended creating extra support programs.

The education support center coordinates services between the school district, social services, behavioral health, and the juvenile court system so that at-risk students are surrounded by caring adults invested in their education.

The mayor’s office attributes the higher graduation rates across the city with partnerships, new strategies and initiatives across the city.

“We believe that by issuing this goal, the mayor elevated this issue as a city-wide crisis encouraging stakeholders to rally behind this one clear, directive goal,” said Sithi Pardeshi, speaking on behalf of the mayor’s office on education. “Since then, stakeholders have come together to implement new strategies targeted towards dropout prevention and recovery for our city’s most vulnerable populations. Strategies have focused around building a diverse portfolio of high-quality school and program options in addition to traditional schooling.”

Local officials say the school district’s Re-engagement Center and accelerated high schools have proven instrumental in getting students back to school for diploma or general equivalency degree. The district has focused on growing its career and technical education portfolio.

Education Support Center was established by the Department of Human Services in response to the data released in the 2006 Unfulfilled Promises Report.

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