While the numbers are slowly improving, four in ten of Philadelphia's young people never finish high school. This dropout crisis impacts everyone – taxpayers, parents, employers, and community members. But those affected most immediately are the youth themselves.
To gain their viewpoint on what should be done, the Notebook interviewed more than 20 young people who are in alternative schools, GED preparation classes, and other programs for out-of-school youth.
Students talk about homelessness, family crises, death, pregnancy, abuse, addiction, rejection – all unfortunately common issues in the lives of city teens.
They also share what they feel was a pervasive indifference on the part of adults in their lives, both at home and in school, to their struggles, aspirations, needs, and identities – not to mention their academic interests and abilities.
Melinda Suarez said nobody seemed to care that she was being pushed ahead in school even though she wasn't learning. B. Touch stopped attending in rebellion against the demands of her Cambodian parents. Rymil Johnson ran away from a father who beat him for being gay. Terrez Freeman was first put in foster care at age six and was arrested at age 13. Tanisha Bradford said she left school because she never felt safe.
In telling their stories, they do also acknowledge their own lack of motivation and bad behavior. But while the sheer magnitude of their collective problems weighs heavily on an underfunded district, the message is still that the schools need to do better. One student put it this way: "Schools really need to ask themselves, 'What are you doing that's making them not want to attend?'"
Most of the youth interviewed had been re-engaged through alternative educational settings that the District and city developed with a push from the citywide coalition of programs and advocates called Project U-Turn. While these alternatives may not be as effective as all had hoped, they offer these young people another opportunity to sort out their lives and get back on track.
Some of the youth, however, tell us that they shouldn't have had to go to a second-chance school or a third-chance school. They never had a sufficient first chance.