Graduation coaches to help TPS teens
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
Oct. 20, 2011: Toledo Public Schools students, including the district’s young Latino population, soon will have more help to earn a high school diploma. Graduation coaches will be placed at schools throughout TPS to assist students in the transition to high school, a time when research shows eighth and ninth graders are most vulnerable to dropping out.
AmeriCorps volunteers from the United Way of Greater Toledo will staff the schools and work with students and their families. TPS officials touted the project as a major tenet of the school district’s transformation plan at a press conference in the Woodward High School library.
“It is specifically geared to elevate the graduation rate of Toledo Public Schools,” said Brian Murphy, TPS assistant superintendent.
“We’ve got 15 to 20 percent of our student population who attend our high schools but don’t finish,” said Dr. Jerome Pecko, TPS superintendent. “That’s huge in terms of the impact that has on the community.”
Graduation coaches will work alongside guidance counselors and other school professionals, identifying barriers to each student’s attendance. The coach will then help develop and implement a personalized graduation action plan for that student. The strategy includes holding one-on-one or small-group coaching sessions to provide support, help, guidance, and connection to resources for at-risk students who might otherwise slip through the cracks.
“Maybe the student is staying at home to care for younger brothers and sisters and the family needs to be connected to quality child care,” said Michelle Davis, United Way vice president. “Maybe the student needs tutoring but has been afraid to ask for that assistance.”
TPS officials admitted that many families often feel disconnected from their child’s school. The graduation coaches’ project is an effort to alleviate problems in the home that may affect student attendance or lead to discipline problems.
“We have always talked about community involvement, bringing agencies into schools. It’s one thing to say it, it’s another to see it happen,” said Woodward principal Emilio Ramirez, whose school has had a two-year pilot project in place. “There is a connection between social agencies, non-profits, and TPS and I’m glad to be part of that.”
The academic and attendance progress of students also will be tracked to ensure they stay on pace to graduate in four years.
AmeriCorps workers serving as graduation coaches are giving a year of service. While the AmeriCorps program nationally is set up to address critical needs in communities, the United Way locally is focusing its program on education. Members are trained to mentor at-risk kids, while receiving a living stipend, education award, and professional development in exchange for their year of service.
“I’m expecting to be able to work with these kids, inspire them, give them a ray of hope, something to look forward to,” said graduation coach Jason Dixon. “I think it’s important to have that support system, those people that believe in you and constantly push you to achieve your best. That’s what the definition of a coach is.”
“Graduation coaching is one program that will potentially catch kids at the last critical tipping point,” said Ms. Davis.
Long-term, TPS and United Way officials hope the project will achieve two community-wide results. First, a higher graduation rate may put more inner-city youth on a path toward college, because the University of Toledo and Owens Community College offer free tuition to TPS students who qualify. Second, the project is aimed at building a more well-trained workforce, which could help the region’s economic health.