Engaged Families and Communities

Community Partnership Focuses on Dropout Prevention

The first time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington ever thought about going to college was when his Boys & Girls Club director began hanging up the college banners of former club members who had graduated from high school and gone on to pursue a higher education.

“I was maybe eight or nine years old, and I looked up at those names, those places, and thought ‘Man, anything is possible!’” if I worked hard and graduated from high school,” Washington said.

Helping kids work hard and graduate is the goal of a community partnership between the National Education Association (NEA) and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), of which Denzel Washington is a national spokesperson. He joined the Boys and Girls Club in Mount Vernon, New York, when he was just six years old. He credits the organization for keeping him away from drugs, crime and violence, and also for encouraging him to stay in school.

Washington, like so many kids today, grew up in a tough neighborhood plagued by crime, and needed extra support from the community to help him stay on track. That extra support is exactly what the NEA/BGCA partnership will provide. NEA members will volunteer as BGCA mentors in a program called “Be Great: Help a Student Graduate,” which will target at-risk students at lower-performing schools, our priority schools, helping them succeed academically and go on to graduate.

Research shows that partnerships of schools, families, and community organizations dedicated to student success can play a vital role in closing achievement gaps. Research also shows that higher academic achievement among at-risk kids lowers the chances of their dropping out.

“There is no single group that can stem the tide of dropouts alone. We need collaboration between educators, communities and partners like Boys & Girls Clubs of America, that have a proven track record in developing innovative strategies to help young people and their families, particularly high-risk youth, build successful lives,” said NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen.

Local union members will work with the staff of their community’s Boys and Girls Club to get matched with at-risk students. The members will not only build a long-term mentoring relationship with the students, but will also engage their parents or guardians in helping check for and address the warning signs for dropping out, such as low attendance, behavior problems, and course failure.

It was that kind of attention that spurred Denzel Washington to finish school and plan for college.

“The Boys and Girls Club motivated us to dream big and take our education seriously. Kids today need that same motivation, more than ever,” he said.

The dropout rate is at its highest ever. Today, one-third of America’s children do not graduate from high school; for Latino and African-American males, the rate skyrockets to nearly 50 percent.

Young people who drop out of high school are more likely to be unemployed, be in poor health, be involved with crime, use illegal drugs and become dependent on public assistance. They also are less likely to contribute to their communities in a meaningful way.

But the dropout crisis can be prevented by mentors who work with students to change their course, and provide the support and guidance needed to get them to graduation.

“This partnership is about collaboration between the union and the community to tackle one of the most pressing issues facing our priority schools, said Phil McLaurin, NEA’s director of External Partnerships and Advocacy. “By raising achievement among at-risk students, we’ll help end the dropout crisis and help turnaround lower performing schools.”

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