Regular school attendance can contribute to students developing reading proficiency, staying engaged in school, scoring higher on tests, graduating from high school and college, and maintaining a job.
High school needs to be fun and welcoming, a place where students feel valued by caring adults and engaged by interesting coursework that they can see will prepare them for a future.
But, too often, high schools – especially large, neighborhood institutions – can be places where students get lost, ignored, and bored.
“I really think that a lot of times schools have become more like penal colonies,” said Linda Carroll, principal of 3,000-student Northeast High School. “So I think we have to do some work around that – making schools inviting for kids.”
For this edition on student engagement, the Notebook convened a group of six educators from three of the city’s neighborhood high schools that have had relative success in maintaining attendance and graduation rates. They had a 90-minute dialogue on what they do to keep students in school.
In Steve Grosso’s spacious, well-equipped computer lab at South Philadelphia High School, students in a Computer Repair and Networking class are learning how to diagnose and repair every aspect of a desktop PC’s hardware and operating systems.
A few floors below, their classmates in John Evans’ engineering class are using computer-assisted design programs and trigonometry calculations to come up with a plan for reconfiguring the stormwater drainage system at Southern, a real-life application of their academic work. A 3D printer is the latest industrial tool at their disposal, to help them raise their design skills to a new level.
Southern’s career and technical education (CTE) programs have expanded this year, and many participating students are enthusiastic about their future job prospects and engaged in their course work.
As three young men who once dropped out share their stories, Nasir Mack hears what could lie in store for his friends – or himself.
One former student left school after butting heads with the deans. Another needed academic help but didn’t get it. A third just didn’t show up.
Despite individual obstacles, all three graduated from Congreso’s GED program in North Philadelphia – but not before spending months out of school. Their stories bear the hallmarks of teenage life: confusion, frustration, big decisions, painful realizations – and in their cases, learning, success and growth. They came to the Philadelphia Youth Network to talk about their journeys and help the Notebook explore the kinds of experiences that lie behind students’ familiar complaints.
Major funding of this section of the Notebook on ‘Keeping Students Engaged’ was provided by Project U-Turn, a citywide campaign to understand, focus public attention on and, most importantly, resolve Philadelphia’s dropout crisis.
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A decade ago, it wasn’t far off to say that in the School District of Philadelphia, only half the students graduate.
At least now you can say two-thirds.