By Erika F. Washington
Clark County is on a quest to tighten its grip on the failing school district and has partnered with American Graduate: Let’s make it happen is a national initiative meant to raise awareness and answer the question: Why are so many students not graduating?
Las Vegas has one of the largest school districts in the nation with 390 schools serving more than 312,761 students in grades K-12. The dropout rate for high school students in 2008 was more than 6 percent. Along with 11 other cities they are participating in the community specific program to battle the alarming dropout rates in Clark County.
The program kicked off with the Vegas PBS’ American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen Teacher Town Hall was hosted by Ray Suarez the Senior Correspondent of PBS NewsHour. The program originally aired on March 29 at 8 p.m. on Channel 10 and will be rebroadcasted at a later date. Over 100 Clark County teachers were invited to discuss the critical issue of the county‘s low graduation rate and express what they felt the major issues were.
Tom Axtell, General Manager of Vegas PBS spoke directly to the teachers before the taping of the program asking the teachers to offer suggestions to him on how the station can better serve them in the community. “Over the next five years we will discuss the issues you are facing whether that kids are hungry… or other impediments to you succeeding in helping us get our children to be graduates. We hope this will elevate and recalibrate the public discussion…instead of reiterating the same old stories every year,” say’s Axtell.
More than one teacher stood and spoke about the responsibilities their students have at home. Many are having to work outside of the home or take care of younger siblings and aren’t spending the requisite amount of time at school or on their homework.
Transiency is another major problem in the CCSD. Students moving in and out of the city from other states or from school to school has caused a number of students to fall behind in credits.
“Having to repeat a grade because of the inconsistencies in classroom standards can make a child give up all together,” spoke one concerned educator.
The program funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is giving a voice to the teachers in some of the hardest hit schools in the valley including Chaparral High school and Desert Pines High School.
Vegas PBS is working hand in hand with radio partner KCEP to bring awareness to the issues. The non-profit station aired the first town hall on March 26th. Over the next five years both stations will act as a public media community hub to collect and disseminate important information about the dropout crisis in Nevada. The initiative is meant to help teachers and parents work with students in danger of dropping out.
One of the audience members, Latonya Freeman an 8th grade teacher at Bridger Middle school in North Las Vegas doesn’t see a lot of dropouts in her school nonetheless she is concerned about creating a foundation to keep her students from dropping out once they transition to high school. “It’s a combination of things…but the challenge is maintaining the importance of education, building on what they know each year and keeping them from shutting down.”
*The alarming statistics:
More than 7,000 students drop out of school in America every day.
Nationwide only 75.5% of students earn their high school diplomas on time. This falls to 65% for African American and Hispanic students.
Among African-American and Hispanic students graduation rates are even lower.
Statistics from: *http://www.americangraduate.org