This week, high school seniors across Colorado will grab their diplomas, toss their caps in the air and enter their post-secondary lives among a generation of students whose schooling has left them woefully unprepared.
From the White House to district boardrooms, lawmakers and educators are trying to figure out ways to raise the academic level of the nation’s young and prepare them for life after high school.
“What’s at stake is nothing less than the American dream,” President Barack Obama said in a speech last month.
The U.S. ranks 15th out of 29 developed countries in the percentage of college students who complete their degrees and 10th in the world in the percentage of young adults who have college degrees.
“All of this happening at a time when education levels are more important to our economic picture than ever,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust — a Washington, D.C.-based organization that focuses on school inequities.
Colorado has one of the nation’s most educated workforces, but only one in five ninth-graders is expected to earn a college degree — a curiosity dubbed the “Colorado Paradox.”
Roughly 30 percent of the state’s high school students leave without earning a diploma. Among those who graduate and go to college, one-third will need remedial classes.
Legislation and action by state and district officials is toughening graduation requirements, creating programs that allow students to get college credit while in high school and developing a seamless system of standards from preschool through college.
The work could put Colorado in position to earn a share of $5 billion being dangled by the U.S. Department of Education for states that lead the way in education reforms.
“It is imperative that we get kids prepared,” said Richard Wenning, associate commissioner at the Colorado Department of Education.
Kids need to see relevance
Steve Dobo, founder and director of Colorado Youth for a Change — a nonprofit that works on the dropout problem — said his team has asked classes full of ninth-graders to explain a high school credit or grade-point average.
“No one knew,” he said. “There isn’t common knowledge about what it takes to succeed in high school. Twelfth-graders are showing up with no credits and think they will graduate. The game changes between middle school and high school, and many are not aware of that.
“We have got to start doing some things to reengage students. One of the reasons they drop out is they don’t see the relevance of education in their lives.”
Legislation passed this year as part of the School Finance Act requires that every Colorado ninth-grader sign up for a state-run website that helps them plan their post-secondary life, academically and financially.
The website, collegeincolorado.org, gets kids to identify careers they would like and shows them courses they need in high school and beyond.
Jefferson County this year began requiring its seventh- and eighth-graders to register for the site.
At a recent parents’ night at O’Connell Middle School in Lakewood, Jaya Charles, 13, hovered over a laptop in the cafeteria, answering the online queries about her likes and dislikes to reveal she has the characteristics of a criminal defense lawyer.
“That’s what I want to do,” said Jaya to her mother, who was beaming at her side.
Denver Public Schools piloted the program a few years ago.
“We are trying to get more kids prepared for post-secondary and tell them that they need more education after high school,” said Scott Springer, director of DPS’ post-secondary pathways.
Dropout lacked guidance
In Denver, 39 percent of kids who graduated in 2007 enrolled in some post-secondary course in the following year. The goal is to raise that percentage by 3.5 points in five years.
“The way to fix that is starting early with the end in mind,” Springer said. “It’s educating kids, building in supports and walking them hand in hand.”
Frankie Hernandez, 18, would have liked some guidance when he was a freshman — someone to help him focus and figure out courses he would need.
Instead, he dropped out when he was a 14-year-old freshman — first from Thornton High School and later from Skyview High in Mapleton.
“I felt like I had to make money,” he said. “My mind was, ‘You understand and know what you need to know right now.’ ”
He worked in construction but soon understood his mistake.
“I realized I would end up like a lot of people in my family who go paycheck-to-paycheck,” he said, sitting in the offices of Colorado Youth for a Change — the organization that helped him.
“Education matters,” he said, expecting to graduate in June from Denver’s Emily Griffith Opportunity School. He plans to enroll at Metro State to pursue a degree in social work.
Now, he wants to work with kids like him to help them find their way through school.
“I would have liked it if someone would have actually asked me what I would like to do and would have told me what I could do to get there,” he said. “Now, I want to do that — help someone like that.”
Jeremy P. Meyer: 303-954-1367 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Source : https://www.denverpost.com/2009/05/16/new-website-prepares-students-after-school/