“It’s very important for us to build relationships with the community,” said Brian Murphy, assistant TPS superintendent at a kickoff event last week. “This is the type of program that rebuilds communities.”
“For us, it’s just about making a difference in students’ lives, transforming not only the lives of our students but the lives of our community” said Tamara Williams, Owens vice provost. “It is so critical that we reach out to these students. There needs to be some kind of transformation in our community. We have to make a difference.”
In 2010, 2,000 Toledo high school students dropped out of school. In Ohio, that number topped 39,000 that same year. Ms. Williams challenged the audience to even reach half that group of Toledo students, or 1,000 teens.
“If we re-enroll them, re-engage them, and graduate them, that means $9.7 million in earnings combined. They will make that amount of money,” she said. “That means $1 million in tax revenue for our community. That’s huge for our community. We cannot ignore that.”
Ms. Williams challenged those who questioned why Owens would use a $325,000 grant on a three-year project with high school dropouts, pointing out that it costs taxpayers $25,200 per year to incarcerate an inmate.
The Owens vice provost pointed to a study which shows that by 2020, 52 percent of all jobs—more than half—would require some form of postsecondary education.
The overall goal of the Gateway program is to help students earn a high school diploma, not just a GED. Then the program will move students on to college and allow them to earn either a two-year associate’s degree, a professional certificate, or transfer their education to a four-year institution in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. College professors will be their instructors at each step of the process.
A former TPS principal will serve as the district’s liaison to the Gateway program.
“One of the saddest, hardest things I ever had to do was when students would come back to me and they were either close to dropping out or they were so far behind that they just couldn’t see any hope of graduating,” said Gail Shaver, TPS director of special programs.
“In my heart I was always crying for them, because once kids leave high school, they’ve kind of crossed the riverfront. They’ve kind of crossed the road and look at themselves as adults.”
Once they’ve left the classroom the first time, Ms. Shaver described dropouts as seeing it as “almost impossible to go back into that student role, with 47-minute periods and the bells ringing ‘Don’t be late’ and a dress code.” The Gateway program will change that dynamic, because those adult ‘students’ will be in a college setting instead.
“They usually rebel because they know that they are adults,” she said. “So this is a sort of a band-aid on my heart, this whole program, because now principals and counselors that work with these kids have a place to refer them.”
James “JJ” Jackson from Owens Community College will find, recruit, and enroll eligible students to join the program. He brings two decades of higher education experience to the program.
“Gateway gives students a second chance,” he said. “For whatever reason, something went wrong. Something happened at home. Something happened to them. Something happened emotionally. For whatever reason, they didn’t fit into that round hole. They were a square peg. What we do is give them an opportunity to get it right, make it right.”
He challenged everyone in the room to help him find students to enroll in Gateway, so the process can begin to change lives. He also told the individual stories of a couple dropouts who had recently signed up as motivation.
One of the dropouts spoke Arabic as her family’s primary language—a barrier to finishing high school. Yet she had watched both of her older siblings attend college and succeed. She is determined to do the same.
Another student had been kicked out of his home by his parents when he dropped out of high school. He later survived a horrific car crash and vowed to use his second chance at life to complete a diploma and pursue his dream of attending culinary arts school.
“What I like about this program is we have a chance to change the trajectory of entire families,” said Jackson. “We’ve all heard it takes a village to raise a child. I think it takes an entire community to give a student a second chance.”
The Owens Gateway coordinator stated he has received a lot of motivation from hearing the individual life circumstances of dropouts and their motivation to succeed anyway.
“There are a lot of kids out there that all they need is for someone to believe in them, somebody to open a door, and for someone to say ‘You have the permission to be successful—now go do it,’” Jackson said.
Officials from the Gateway to College National Network, based in Portland, Oregon, also attended the press conference at the United Way of Greater Toledo offices in downtown Toledo. The national group provides the startup funds, training, and technical assistance to dropout recovery programs at 35 community and technical colleges in 20 states.
Students who are interested in more information about the Gateway to College program can call (567) 661-7241 or 1-800-GO-OWENS, extension 7241, or send an e-mail to [email protected]. The application deadline for the fall program start is Aug. 4.