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Grad Nation Summit energizes and inspires hundreds to continue efforts to tackle the high school dropout crisis

The 2013 Building a Grad Nation Summit convened more than 800 dedicated individuals, 10 percent of whom were youth, and organizations working to end the high school dropout crisis. Hosted by America’s Promise Alliance, Alliance for Excellent Education, Civic Enterprises, and Everyone Graduates Center, the event took place February 24-27 in Washington, DC.

The Summit marked an important juncture in the 10-year Grad Nation campaign, where the latest research revealed that the nation is on track to reach its goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020. 

“What we have here is not an education challenge, it is an American challenge,” said America's Promise chair Mrs. Alma J. Powell.

Conference sessions began with powerful testimonies from three young people who were former high school dropouts but persevered to overcome substantial life challenges to eventually earn their high school diplomas.

“I don’t give up on myself anymore,” said Melanie Roman. “So I ask all the adults not to give up on me or other youth like me.”

Participants ranged from community organizations, national nonprofits, school systems, business leaders, government officials of all levels, parents and youth from around the country all interested in examining the progress and remaining challenges in the nation’s efforts to increase high school graduation rates and close opportunity gaps for youth.

“We have no more important task in our country now than to prepare the next generation of youngsters to take leadership positions in our country,” said America’s Promise Founding Chairman General Colin Powell.

First Lady Mrs. Laura Bush was on hand to discuss the Bush Institute’s commitment to the middle grades where she announced a series of co-hosted summits, which will focus on early warning indicator and intervention systems. 

“Accountability is absolutely critical to education reform,” said Mrs. Bush. “Every child can learn. Schools must have the highest expectations for the performance of all students. And school leaders must have the authority to create meaningful change when those expectations aren’t met.”

School Turnaround AmeriCorps, the Department of Education’s latest initiative, was announced at the Summit and discussed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan during his February 26 remarks.

“To see graduation rates up, to see dropout rates down, to see dropout factories decrease by about 20-25 percent—these are huge, huge accomplishments, that most of the pundits, most of the so-called experts two to three years ago would have said was impossible,” said Secretary Duncan.

General sessions for all in attendance and concurrent breakout sessions that focused on key topics such as the business perspective on achievement, social and emotional learning, common core state standards and how the skills gap threatens the economy were held over two days, along with a youth preconference. The event concluded February 27 with a Capitol Hill briefing on early childhood education and early brain research.

Three reports were released at the Summit and one report was released on February 27. In addition to the highly-anticipated 2013 Building a Grad Nation report update, the other reports included findings on poverty and education; college readiness, access and completion; and hunger in the classroom.

“The country’s efforts to end the dropout crisis are working and for the first time we can say that we are on pace, in many states, to meet our graduation goals,” said Dr. Robert Balfanz, co-author of the 2013 Building a Grad Nation report and co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

Among several clips shown during the conference were a historical timeline of dropout prevention efforts, America’s Promise’s Expanded Learning Opportunities video, a message from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a special message from former U.S. Poet Laureate Dr. Maya Angelou. In addition, video was captured of Playworks CEO and Founder Jill Vialet who led the crowd in an epic game of rock, paper, scissors.

The conversation on Twitter and Facebook surrounding the Summit burgeoned. Participants were highly engaged sharing thoughts, posing questions, posting pictures and quoting memorable and meaningful tidbits from speakers and fellow conference-goers. The conversation can be viewed on Twitter by searching the hashtag #GradNation2013 or viewing @AmericasPromise feed. Photos from the event are available on our websiteFacebook page and Instagram account.

Sponsors of the Building a Grad Nation Summit included: premier sponsors State Farm (Grad Nation Presenting Sponsor), AT&T, Sun Life Financial and Target; signature sponsors Apollo Group, Bezos Family Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Casey Family Programs, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ford Foundation and Lumina Foundation; and benefactor sponsors The American Academy, Annie E. Casey Foundation, BNY Mellon and National Cable & Telecommunications Association.  

Grad Nation Summit Detailed Recaps