Forum focuses on lowering dropout rate for students

2011-11-08T00:05:00Z 2012-12-23T14:12:58Z Forum focuses on lowering dropout rate for studentsBY MARLON A. WALKER • mwalker@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8104 stltoday.com

ST. LOUIS • Metro High School teacher Barrett Taylor said schools need to adapt curricula to fit student needs.

He sat Monday night with two other local educators on a stage before an audience of 100 other teachers in a studio at the Nine Network of Public Media (KETC) in midtown. All were there for "American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen," an initiative by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to discuss ways to solve the region's high school dropout problem.

In 2010, the graduation rate in the St. Louis Public Schools was 60 percent, according to the district.

Students are not being equipped to handle what's going on around them, Taylor said.

"We need to adapt to the students," he said. "It's not just in school (that they need us)."

The CPB has partnered with youth advocacy group America's Promise Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to address the dropout problem. Monday's American Graduate Teacher Town Hall meeting was the first of 12 to be held across the country.

At the event, teachers discussed issues they have seen in their own classrooms. Many agreed educating children should be an all-hands-on-deck process.

"Understanding the context of community … is critical," said Stephanie Krauss, president and CEO of Shearwater Education Foundation, which helps dropouts ages 17 to 21 get their diplomas. "Put an extraordinary teacher anywhere with the proper support, they can show great academic gains."

Some teachers told stories of trying to teach students the day after a loved one had been fatally shot. Or keeping students focused when they have just come to class because they could get a meal or, unlike at home, because the heat is on.

Celeste Adams, who teaches honors English at Riverview Gardens High School, shared her story of dealing with sexual abuse and the violent deaths of two sisters when she was young. With so much going on at home, she said, it was good to have encouragement at school.

And teachers need to be motivated to push pupils, she said. "It was the invested teachers who helped me," Adams said.

During the hourlong session, which was taped and aired later in the evening, audience members answered a question by text message about conditions at their schools.

Most said their schools don't always effectively respond to students who can't read or are behind others in their grade.

On a second question, 55 percent of those who responded said community support for their schools was low.

"School districts now have to educate the community," Adams said. "If we can do that, we'll have more success."

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