Empowering Young Black Youths with Education

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Malcolm X proclaimed 45 years ago, “Education is the passport to the future; for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” The meaning and need for commitment remain the same in 2010.

From the beginning of current CEO Dr. Andres A. Alonso’s tenure with the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS), he has promoted innovative programs to improve the conditions and welfare of the Baltimore City student. But none can deny the staggering statistics regarding Black male achievement.

According to Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund, every five seconds during the school day, a Black public school student is suspended. Every 46 seconds during the school day, a Black high school student drops out. Every minute, a Black child is arrested and a Black baby is born to an unmarried mother.

BCPSS, however, has found a way to attack these problems.

Nationally, Black students, while representing only 17 percent of public school students, account for 32 percent of suspensions and 30 percent of expulsions. In 1999, 35 percent of all Black students in grades seven through 12 had been suspended or expelled from school. The rate was 20 percent for Hispanics and 15 percent for Whites.

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“There are too many Black males dropping out due to the fact that parents, teachers and mentors are disconnected from the issues, obstacles and negative influences. They are discouraged and their environment hinders them from daily success and/or advancements in the classroom,” said Mt Washington Elementary school teacher Matthew Day.

According to recent reports, there has been a significant decline in Black males dropping out of school and an increase in these same Black males graduating from high school. According to the city, a total of 1,724 Black males graduated this year compared to 1,537 in 2007. Only 593 Black male students were listed as dropouts for this year; a significant decrease over previous years.

Even though there is a slight increase in graduation rates, overall, 57 percent of Black males graduate compared to 66 percent of all students.

BCPSS Executive Director of Community Engagement Michael Sarbanes said the success is from the Great Kids Comeback Fairs and literally knocking on doors. “Our commitment is to increase the numbers each year but keep in mind it is a process,” he said. “As looking at each individual student, we have to find out the reasons of their dropout. Some are attendance and chronic absences or other issues which we find ways to resolve to get them back into school.”

Sarbanes added, “Our next step towards increasing this progress will be recruiting community based groups, for example, churches and local organizations.”

Part of this success has been due to parent involvement, of which Dr. Alonso is very proud. BCPSS increasingly encourages the role of parents in the decision-making process with the schools.

“Hearing the dropout rate is on the decline is very encouraging. Dr. Alonso is doing an outstanding job and keeps the parents involved and accountable,” said Day.