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In Ohio’s Lorain County, ‘There is no greater gift to give a community than a higher graduation rate’

Sometimes progress is not a straight line to the top, but instead marked with twists and turns. That’s the case for Lorain County, whose on-time high school graduation rates slid from 81.4 percent in 2009 to 67.8 percent in 2013.

The Ohio State Department of Education issued their annual report card for northeastern Ohio County—which includes the cities of Lorain, Elyria, and Oberlin—in January of 2016, and it revealed a four-year graduation rate of 67.3 percent and a five-year graduation rate of 75.5 percent. Neither percentages earned the county passing grades. 

Determined to reignite an upswing in graduation rates, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Lorain County brought together more than 150 educators and youth development workers to address the county’s graduation rate at the GradNation Community Summint on Oct. 17.

The summit explored three key themes in helping young people to and through graduation: community partnership, focusing on the whole-child, and thinking about dropout prevention as a culture at the community and school level.

Setting the tone for the day, Edwin Link, the national vice president for Educational Foundations at Boys and Girls Clubs of America, shared why he sees community partners as an important value-add. “We cannot say the Club is completely responsible for graduation,” he said. “We take our fair share, but that's why partnership is so important.”

“At Boys and Girls Club it's not just about one kid,” Link continued. “Kids need different things, but it's about the young people who need us most.”

National Dropout Prevention Center Director Dr. Sandy Addis discussed both the impact of graduation rates on the community and the impact of the community on graduation rates. He cited less positive health, wellness, and economic outcomes for students who had not yet completed high school when compared to graduates.

“It costs us as a community to not graduate three kids out of every 10,” Addis  said. “There is no greater gift to give a community than a higher graduation rate.” He added that graduating more students does not take just one strategy, like hiring more ninth grade counselors, but a collection of strategies deployed after a foundation has been set by the community.

Seven youth panelists highlighted their own experiences with adults in school and in the larger community, offering suggestions for how individuals, schools, and communities could make them feel more supported.

“If students got more support at home and more support from other students and teachers, fewer would dropout,” one panelist said.

Other panelists agreed. Four out of the seven said they knew someone who had not finished high school, and three of those four said that person regretted their decision. Another of the youth panelists observed that, “the community is good at football and basketball games, but what else are they missing? You can't be there when we are taking a test but it makes a big difference to know the community is behind you.”

The second keynote speaker, Jack Berckmeyer, explored what a supportive school culture looked like at the school level. Schools should support student growth not just academically, he said, but socially, emotionally, developmentally, and behaviorally as well.

Berkmeyer issued a unique challenge to the audience: He had them write every kid's name on a card in the ninth grade, had each teacher pick one, and then said, ‘Ask yourself why you didn't pick the ones that are left. Take the time to talk about your biases and each decide to make a purposeful connection with seven to 10 students that year.’

“I'm a C student,” Berckmeyer admitted. “I'm an average guy and I turned out okay. Why? Because of my teachers and the adults in my life.”

America’s Promise Alliance is working with community partners across the country to host 100 community summits through March 2017. This initiative is part of its GradNation goal to reach a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020.

Each community summit convenes multi-sector leaders to identify challenges facing young people in their communities and develop strategies to address them. To learn more about community summits or find one in your area, visit GradNation community summits.