President Obama set a goal for the United States to have the most educated workforce in the world by 2020. Over the years, America’s No. 1 rank among countries with the most college graduates has diminished to No. 9 with countries like Japan, Russia, South Korea and Canada leading the way. The Department of Labor projects that jobs related to math and science are among the fastest growing industries in the country, yet the U.S. ranks 25 and 26 respectively worldwide in these areas.

During a two-day trip, Alberto Retana, director of community development for the US Department of Education, visited schools in Baltimore to determine what’s needed to meet the president’s goal. The visit was a part of a “National Youth Listening Tour” created by DOE officials to “open a dialogue with youth from diverse experiences and backgrounds to discuss what it means to create a college-going culture at the family, community and school level.”

DOE officials made nine stops on the tour, visiting schools in Boston, Philadelphia, New Mexico, Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, Seattle, Oakland and Jackson, Miss.

“Some interesting themes have come out so far,” said Retana of the Baltimore leg of his tour. “A lot of young people of talked about college affordability and where the money for their education is going to come from. They have also emphasized the importance of adults that care, quality teaching and high expectations.”

Though geographically diverse, his destinations have some similarities. “Most of these cities are struggling to provide a high-quality educational system for their residents. We visited cities that have had high drop-out rates and low college going rates for some time. What I have found in all of these cities is that there is some community effort in partnership with the district to really address these challenges.”

At Hamilton Elementary and Middle School Renata met principal Bill Murphy, teachers and students.

Murphy showcased the improvements made at Hamilton – made possible through major community partnerships with parents and the Greater Homewood Community Corporation, and grants from the Goldseker Foundation – as a possible model for increasing parental involvement in schools and improving the quality of education for children in minority communities.

The key Murphy said, was getting residents to view the school as an asset to the community. “We’ve increased enrollment which has substantially increased our funding,” he said, “and improved our reputation so that when homebuyers are looking at the neighborhood they can say there is an excellent school.”

Students at Hamilton told Retana that having adults invested in their success and parental involvement ranked high among the factors needed for their continued success. “It was pretty loud and clear from all the kids that no matter what package you put it in, what they want is to be in a school community where they feel like people care about them and believe in their potential,” said Murphy.

“Not parental involvement just until kids are done with fourth grade but parental involvement through someone’s teens. A 14-year-old needs to hear the same message as a kindergartner, that we believe in you and your potential to succeed. That we care about you, and that your parents and your school are working together to move you forward. Both will be present if you need assistance, if you need guidance, if you make a mistake, and to make sure that you’re making the choices that are going to prepare you for college. In a lot of ways the kids are saying ‘we need adults to be adults.’”


Melissa Jones

Special to the AFRO