by Donald W.R. Allen, II – Editor in Chief, The Independent Business News Network
Minneapolis, MN (IBNN/Education Engagement/October 15, 2012)…With things being as they are you can hear and read all kinds of stories about all kinds of things on any given day. U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan has made many direct comments about the severity of the dropout epidemic. He said, “States and district officials have largely tinkered in these schools, instead of treating them as educational emergencies. But children only get one chance at an education. We cannot be content with the status quo; and we cannot be content to continue tinkering.”
What is different about this story is it is the first time I have ever heard of anything like this. Wesley Smith known to students and parents as “Mr. Smith” started recruiting students for private and charter schools as a way to generate revenue to support his family and assist the community in building a pipeline back to education called, Drop Outs to Drop Ins.
Smith talked to IBNN about his work in the very beginning: “It was mostly temporary contracts to increase enrollment for schools with K-8 students, in the process of performing this body of work I would often run into high school drop outs who had no direction and felt as though because they had dropped out of school that they were like lepers – so I would give them my number and ask them to call me. After getting several calls from these kids I started to go to different high schools and ask them about re-enrollment of students, some were receptive and some were not. So where the former student could not re-enter the standard school system I would refer them to an alternative or charter school – some of these schools even contracted me to recruit students for them.”
In 2012, Smith is more interested in what method of contact he employed and who would step up to assist him, in most cases for no pay. His concern was effective outreach can only be accomplished when the communication is just as effective.
The disparity in dropouts, especially those student of color have created the following statistics:
1) Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone. That’s a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day. 2) More than a quarter of high school freshmen fail to graduate from high school on time. 3) On average, only 58% of students in America’s 50 largest cities make it to graduation. 4) More than one in four Hispanic youth drop out, and nearly half leave by the eighth grade. 5) Hispanics are twice as likely as African Americans to drop out. 6) White and Asian American students are least likely to drop out. 7) In the last 20 years, the earnings level of dropouts doubled, while it nearly tripled for college graduates. 8) Recent dropouts will earn $200,000 less than high school graduates, and over $800,000 less than college graduates, in their lives. 9) Dropouts make up nearly half the heads of households on welfare. 10) In the U.S., high school dropouts commit about 75 percent of crimes. 11) The dropout problem is likely to increase substantially through 2020 unless significant improvements are made.
America’s high school graduation rate ranks 19th in the world – forty years ago, we were number one. It’s a sad commentary to where we are in 2012.
(Sources: Strong American Schools, Underlying Causes of High School Dropouts, Kid Source Online: New Information on Youth Who Drop Out, and The Silent Epidemic).
For instance, it is hard for them to hear you if they are hungry, and you have to be willing to ask them as well as feed them sometimes.
Mr. Smith and his work attracted the attention of film director Robert Townsend, who came to Minneapolis to meet Mr. Smith and to screen his new film “In The Hive”(A true story) which is about teen-age boys who could not make it in the traditional school system and was afforded another opportunity in a charter school started by a woman who cared. “I wanted to meet her because there are not enough schools to house these kids who are willing to take a chance on non-traditional schools, ” said Smith.
The Drop Outs to Drop Ins Project that was endorsed by Mr. Robert Townsend on his visit to the Twin Cities. Smith spent four-days with Mr. Townsend who was such an inspiration to him. He told me that this body of work was meant for me to do and being that I conceived this concept it is up to me to save and build lives, and after Smith viewing Robert Townsend’s film, In the Hive, he knew that he must continue to move forward, because this film in itself will save thousands of lives.
When asked how does he (Smith) meet the need of the dropouts he encounters, without funding, Smith’s says, “Drop Out to Drop Ins Project will become a national model to address the problem that plagues young our people – not being in school. If I keep doing the work, success will follow, I’m confident about that.”
IBNN asked him if it pays well to do what he does? “If I have a contract with a school I can make a little money, but most of the time when I get calls form young people is when I don’t have a contract, and I have to provide them with the same service for free,” said Smith who went on to say, “Yes you have to not only take their phone call because 9 out of 10 times they got my number from someone else. I have to pick them up or meet them somewhere to talk about their life and future. The issues around their dropping out of school range from simple to bazaar, however I have developed relationships with many different social service workers and agencies as well as went to many workshops, classes, and training meetings which enables me to better work with all parties that are or could be involved.” Smith has delivered over 200 students back to school.
Smith talks about the tracking of dropouts. “Well for the first year or so I was not counting and someone asked me how many students have I re-enrolled and I could not give a number because there had been many. So I started counting in 2009 and my 200th student has graduated and was a scholarship recipient – her boyfriend had only a couple of credits to make up and should be graduating this winter (2012). I want to take Drop Outs to Drop Ins to the next level and inspire students to return to school and go to college to fulfill dreams of theirs as well as their parents. Nobody wants to be a failure; however having another chance creates a better opportunity for success. I want to work with anyone who wants to see these students make it in life; there just are not enough schools to accommodate these returning students.”
Wesley Smith has the national model with proven track record that it works. He tells IBNN, “The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary“