While we celebrate those who have graduated from area high schools this month, there are some who have been left behind. In Florida, the public high school graduation rate is only 71 percent. If you do the math, this means that 29 percent of Florida students drop out without obtaining a high school diploma. And graduation rates ultimately impact the health of a community, its unemployment and financial stability.
Following this year’s Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, CityTalks brought together business, civic, church and community leaders to discuss these felt needs, including ways we can creatively partner to impact education.
“We wanted to find out what matters to our school board and how can we get on board with what they are already focusing on,” said Laurie Farquhar, chief collaboration officer for United.City.
She pointed to Dillard High Principal Cassandra Robinson who has forged some creative business partnerships over the years that have helped make the school curriculum come to life and encouraged students to be college and career ready.
“It’s not just about businesses writing a check; It’s about giving their time and contacts. And perhaps creating a list of business owners who are ready to come in and engage with the kids, speak to a class or offer internship opportunities,” added Farquhar.
Located in an area with high poverty and HIV rates, Robinson said Dillard boasts a graduation rate of 92.7 percent, is an A school and is home to an award-winning jazz band. As a Magnet School for the performing arts, emerging technology and digital entrepreneurship, Dillard helps students earn industry certifications in a variety of fields and credits much of its success to more than 75 business and community partnerships.
Steven Wasserman, senior vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle, has been partnering with inner city high schools for more than 10 years and serves on the board for the Council for Educational Change. As a businessman representing owners of industrial buildings, he has used his contacts and expertise to help coordinate Career Days at Dillard, Stranahan and Boyd Anderson high schools. Students were told to dress for success, prepare resumes and come prepared with questions about what type of classes they should take or experience they would need in order to get a job with one of the 40 businesses represented at the Career Fair.
“The goal is to help, where a CEO or business professional works with a principal at a local high school providing time, leadership and resources,” said Wasserman.
Over the years he has organized field trips to Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and locally. “The year we went to Washington, D.C. was on the exact date they were voting on Obama Care, so all the kids watched history in action. We also visited Fox News, visited Georgetown and Howard universities, and a 4-star African American General bought the kids lunch and spoke to them about leadership,” said Wasserman. On August 15, he is taking two busloads of teachers, faculty and administrators on a tour of local manufacturing plants and businesses so they can see how they can make students’ course work more relevant to society.
How did he get so involved? Wasserman said his son was excelling in the International Baccalaureate program at Boyd Anderson when the principal approached him and said, “I need your help for the other 2,000 kids.” And he was able to fund many of the programs by raising funds for a matching grant. When the money ran out, Wasserman said, “We arranged two weeks over the summer with different business sites and had a school bus take us around locally.”
As a result of their visit to Howard University, Wasserman said it opened the door for one of the students to earn a full-scholarship to the program. And Wasserman said he was most impressed by a 16-year-old student named Lewis who always showed up to their programs in a dirty T-shirt and jeans despite being encouraged to dress for success. When Wasserman approached Lewis to see if he needed dress clothes, Lewis explained that he worked as a janitor at the Fort Lauderdale Airport from midnight to 6 a.m. and only slept for two hours on a bench before the program began.
Moved to tears, Wasserman said, “Don’t worry about it. This is a kid that wants to make it and has everything against him… We need to show these kids opportunities, and that if you are trained, have a certification and are dedicated, like Lewis, you will get ahead.”
How can you partner with a school? Wasserman suggests, “Have them call me, visit changeeducation.org or call up an inner-city principal and ask how you can get involved. They’ll be happy to have that conversation.” You can also find a list of schools seeking business partnerships at browardpartners.com. Here are a few others way you can get involved.
You could say that reading literacy is the foundation of success. In fact, studies have shown that reading proficiency by the third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success. Seventy four percent of students who don’t meet that milestone do not graduate high school, according to Lori Canning, director of Early Learning and School Readiness for Broward schools.
To promote reading success, a new TutorMate Online Literacy Program matches volunteer readers with first grade children to read with them for 30 minutes a week while logged onto the website and conversing with the student in the classroom over the phone. This interactive technology connects workplaces with classrooms through a simple, easy-to-use software app that guides volunteers through each session and allows them to help students without even leaving the classroom.
After a crew at the Lauderhill Fire Department got involved with TutorMate, the captain overheard the staff proudly talking about “their kids” for the TutorMate program during dinner at the station, and it became an activity that brought them together around a common goal, said Canning. At the end of the school year, volunteers have a meet and greet with their students making it a positive literacy experience for all involved. To learn more about TutorMate, email [email protected].
In addition to business partnerships and TutorMate, Broward County Schools also has a youth mentoring program available to support struggling students.
Simply by sharing a little of what you know, mentors help change lives by supporting positive behavior, reducing dropout rates, promoting academic excellence and discouraging gang or criminal involvement.
The district also supports a variety of community-based mentoring programs, which are listed on their website at getinvolvedineducation.com/mentors.