Turning the High School Dropout Tide

Last June, I was one of few students who graduated from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights. One of the main reasons I graduated was because I was a "college bound" student. Even before entering high school I had the mindset of going to college. This was not because I strived harder or had more potential than other students. It was because I was part of the honors program, where we were constantly being made aware of the benefits of going to college, and provided the resources to get there.
Months before I graduated from middle school we had several presentations and guest speakers who helped us map out our four-year educational plan. I remember thinking to myself how great it was that "all" students were being exposed to going to college and being given the tools to know how to get there.
To my surprise, many of my friends who were not on the "college track" had never been spoken to about higher education. Although they were the students who really needed that help and that extra push to attend college, they were left to fend for themselves and continued blindly into high school.
When I entered high school I was placed in a small learning academy and in honors classes that challenged me. I also had two older brothers attending the same high school, one as a junior and one as a sophomore. While I was being challenged in most of my courses, my brothers were both in regular classes (meaning not honors or AP). Most times they were not engaged in the classroom, and so they would rather ditch.
As a freshman I watched as my brothers gradually lost interest in school. They felt that because their classes were not engaging, missing one or two days would not really change anything. Before they knew it, they just stopped coming to school.
No one was pressuring them to stay in school. Instead, they received more pressure to stay out of school. It took the school three to four months to notify my mother that my brothers were not attending. When they re-enrolled they were so far behind in most of their subjects that they felt they could not catch up. The school suspended them and gave them large amounts of detention hours. They then helped them get out of school and into a continuation school.
When my brothers officially left high school, they did so with the hopes of catching up at a continuation school. However, my mother was given very little information about what schools were out there. The schools that were around the area were overcrowded and there was a long waiting list. My brothers decided that it was way too hard to continue with school and dropped out.
This is not only a situation that my brothers had to go through. Many of my friends never made it to their senior year. Like my brothers, they were not being challenged and like many students they were not being given college prep courses and just decided that it did not matter if they stayed in high school or not because in the end they would just end up getting the same job. The reality is that at Roosevelt, 65 percent of students don't graduate. And only one out of every 16 students is eligible to apply to state colleges, because they haven't taken the required coursework.
Student's experiences and the education crisis plaguing inner-cities throughout the country prompted me to do something about education. I became involved with Inner City Struggle about three years ago and have helped lead several campaigns for educational reform. We organize youths out of four eastside high school campuses. Most recently, we created a coalition between Latino and African-American students from throughout Los Angeles to ensure equal access to a quality education for all students.
Specifically, we fought for the right of all students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to have access to the A-G Life-Prep curriculum. These are the courses required by California for admissions into a four-year public university, and many of them -- like geometry -- are required for jobs even if you don't go to college. About 80 percent of students were graduating at my high school without taking the A-G courses.
In the beginning everyone was against us. They thought the curriculum would push more students out of schools. Most people had the mindset that if you gave students harder classes, they would drop out. But when we conducted a survey at my school, we found that 70 percent of students wanted to go to college. Most students we talked to said they wanted to go to college, but they didn't know how to get there and some didn't think that college was accessible to them.
We pushed hard, and in the end we were victorious. Now, for the first time in the history of LAUSD every student will have access to these courses and doors that would have otherwise remained shut have now been kicked wide open.


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