Diplomas Now unites three national non-profits: Johns Hopkins University’s Talent Development Secondary, a school reform model that improves instruction and performance; City Year’s young-adult “near peers” who welcome students, call them if they don’t show up, provide tutoring, reward positive behavior, and involve students in service and enrichment programs; and Communities in Schools’ case managers who help the neediest students access community resources, such as counseling, health care, housing, food and clothing.
This is the third year Diplomas Now has operated at Liechty and Hollenbeck Middle School and its first year at William Jefferson Clinton Middle School in South Los Angeles. Last year, Diplomas Now won a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand to more schools. And the United Way of Greater Los Angeles recently launched a campaign to bring the model to even more local schools.
That’s Principal Carrillo’s wish: “If every school could have this, we would see a huge change.” She sees change schoolwide and in individual kids, such as sixth-grader Chris. Teachers and the Diplomas Now team met to determine why Chris was acting out at school and learned his father recently had been deported. His mom was struggling. The team made sure Chris understood people cared about him, set expectations, and got him into counseling and a program to prevent kids from joining gangs. Chris used this direction to get back on track.
Gaudencio Marquez from Communities in Schools and Blake Gilliam from City Year are among those who keep kids from falling through the cracks. Last year, Gilliam, 23, tutored a dozen struggling English-as-a-Second-Language students, making her own flashcards, and working with kids before, during and after school. Marquez organized a reception for parents and students with the greatest challenges, the first time most of the kids had ever been honored. Today, at Liechty, “kids rush to get to their classrooms on time,” said Marquez. “They want to be there.”
The dropout crisis will not end without community involvement. Local businesses should join the movement to spread success to schools with great challenges. The alternative is adding thousands more young adults without futures to local unemployment rolls every year.
Robert Balfanz is a senior research scientist at Johns Hopkins University, where he is co-director of Talent Secondary and co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center. Elise Buik is president and chief executive of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
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