Tag Archives: dropout

Friendship Time in School?

Sue Fothergill recently posted a new ‘Audacious Idea’ on how to improve the massive attendance problem in Baltimore’s schools: time and structured ways to develop new friendships.

She begins by describing the magnitude of the problem. “For the past three school years, over 40% percent of Baltimore City public high school students have missed a month or more of school making them chronically absent and last school year 49% of 9th graders missed at least a month of school.” I agree that this is one of the foremost issues we face in the city school system; I referred to my experience with absences here.

But I am skeptical about her plan to fix this issue:

Friendships matter—fostering them to improve school attendance is my audacious idea.

What if every high school had a comprehensive program to facilitate friendships amongst their incoming 9th graders? City Schools should consider creating opportunities for new high school students to become friends, during summer transitional programs, through increased after-school opportunities, and by providing socialization time during the school day while also ensuring that students have the opportunity to talk and learn about positive relationships.

Perhaps it is just my lack of knowledge about how to provide this structured socialization time, as opposed to unstructured socialization during lunchtime or while hanging in the halls. I don’t know how to successfully create these friendship opportunities (other than via after-school clubs and field trips, both of which I have been involved in), so I doubt that this plan will work. Can someone convince me otherwise? What do you do to build new friendships between students at your school? Maybe I should take another read through the Virtual Conference on Soft Skills.

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Graduation 2010

Today was the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2010.

In answer to the implicit question posed in the last sentence of this earlier post, 17 out of the 75 students I taught during their 9th grade year have graduated from my high school.  3 of those graduates failed my Algebra I class, but went on to recover that credit and complete the rest of their four years here.  25 students passed my class that year (2006-7); 14 of that group of 25 graduated today.

As a reminder, not all of those whose names were not announced today at graduation dropped out.  Many were transferred to other schools, and I sincerely hope they achieved success there.

Although those numbers are low, I am pleased to announce that we had 319 graduates this year, more than last year (mentioned in the earlier post’s quoted article).  I was thrilled to see all the students I knew and had taught walk across the stage.  This was the class of students I entered with, and I got to know many of the now-graduates over their and my four years of high school.  I wish them luck and happiness as they go on to college and work!

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The Dropout Problem

My high school, where I teach math and engineering, had the dubious honor of being featured in a recent article by Richard Whitmire for the Chronicle of Higher Education:

As an example, let’s take Baltimore’s Patterson High School, located in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. If you showed up to recruit the Class of 2009 on graduation day, you would have found 164 female and 107 male students. A quirk of birthrates? Not exactly. Had you checked on the ninth-grade class there in September 2008, you would have found 278 girls and 400 boys.

At this point you’ve probably guessed the cause: Incoming ninth-grade boys unprepared for the college-track rigors of high school get slammed and held back for a repeat “experience.”

When I first came to Patterson four years ago, I taught Algebra I (with Data Analysis) in the ninth grade academy, where I experienced the high rate of attrition first-hand.  I taught roughly 75 students that year (all year, in 90 minute blocks, to help prepare for the state’s high-stakes HSA tests).  By the end of the year, 25 of those students were gone:  2 or 3 had been transferred to other Algebra classes within the school; many had moved (within the city, out to the county, or in several cases to another state); some just stopped showing up for school until they were dropped from the rolls.  Another 25 failed my class, all but two due to excessive absences [those who failed averaged 88 days absent].  Since 9th grade Algebra and English classes are each required credits to become a tenth grader, these 25  became ninth grade repeaters.  Some have since dropped out or transferred to another school (I don’t always know which).  This leaves the final group, 25 students who passed my class, most of whom went on to become tenth graders at my school.

Roughly 3/4 of the failing group were boys.  Compare this to the passing group, which was split down the middle:  1/2 boys and 1/2 girls.  I attended the 2009 graduation ceremony Whitmire speaks of, and could see the gender discrepancy in very visual terms, since the young women and young men wear different color caps and gowns.

While the dropout problem for boys at my school (and at all Baltimore City schools) is extreme, girls are not immune.  In the engineering pathway, in particular, we struggle to recruit and retain our female students, who are outnumbered by their male classmates at all grades.  We have been making steady progress, but still have a ways to go.  On a whole-school basis, take a look at the numbers of 9th grade girls vs. graduating senior girls (278 vs. 164) that Whitmire presents.  Now, I know these are not directly comparable because they come from different student cohorts; still, from my experience they are representative.  Each year, we have 500 incoming ninth graders, but only 250 seniors graduate.  A large part of this is due to student/family mobility, but a large part is also due to students dropping out, which peaks in the 9th-10th grades.  My school and Baltimore City as a whole has a dropout problem for both genders.

No firm conclusion to express here.  These numbers (and the human situation they represent) are depressing.  Joanne Jacobs suggests that “catch-up middle schools” and more access to vocational pathways could be part of the solution.  Whitmire, in the quoted article,  offers four steps colleges and universities can take to address the crises of 9th grade and beyond.  Our school system in Baltimore has made strides at recruiting dropouts to come back into schools through the “Great Kids Come Back” program.

I hope some of these strategies help.  This spring, when the students I taught my first year are scheduled to graduate, I shall attend their graduation.  The math teacher in me will be counting how many of my 75 students made it.


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