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Improving Education Improves St. Louis: Connecting Individual Student Outcomes To The Success Of All

Courtesy Normandy School District

Normandy and Riverview Gardens School Districts are unaccredited. St. Louis Public Schools is only provisionally accredited. 

Too many students in the area are dropping out of high school. Last year, for example, Normandy had a 27 percent dropout rate. And only 34 percent of Missouri's fourth-graders met state reading standards.

St. Louis is experiencing a crisis in education, and stakeholders are seeking community involvement to find solutions.

On Monday, the Nine Network held a town hall on improving graduation rates. Next week, the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Education is holding a symposium on school improvement.

Across the board, the consensus seems to be that the problems are bigger than the schools and cannot be solved without the help of the community at large.

"It's much broader than just having one town hall and then hoping that that fixes the problem," said Shelly Williams, project manager for American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen at the Nine Network. "It will take several conversations, several discussions. But it's how you start integrating a call to action to those people so that they get motivated to pass on the word and start seeing themselves as part of the solution."

Williams said that positive relationships with adults are key, and that students need their emotional, physical and social needs met in order to be successful at school.

Her thoughts were echoed by Rich Patton, executive director for Vision for Children at Risk, a St. Louis-based advocacy group.

“The issue here is not...schools but [it is] communities. The challenges that are faced in these schools and by these students that face educational challenges and socio-economic risk, are deeply rooted in what goes on in their family, what goes on in this community," said Patton.

"We’ve done business badly in the St. Louis region for a long time in terms of fragmenting governmental structures and school systems and integrating service delivery," he added. "So I think we have to address things from that perspective, and not just look at the classroom and what goes on there.”

Both Williams and Patton emphasized the connection between the success of individual students and the future of St. Louis as a whole.

“I think what we need to work with folks to see is the connection between how well kids do and how well the overall community does in terms of economic development and quality of life," said Patton. "Those are the same issue ultimately, not different issues.”

If students don't graduate on time and find ways to engage with the community, said Williams, then the don't become productive citizens. They instead become become burdens.

Hope for a Future

One way to get students motivated to graduate, is to give them a scholarship to college. Say Yes to Education, a New York organization, has been providing scholarships to students in Syracuse for more than 20 years. Say Yes to Education President Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey says by giving these scholarships to students at a young age, they give the kids hope for a brighter future.

Some scholarships are available in the St. Louis region, provided by Beyond Housing among others. The key is letting children know about them early on, said Carol Basile, Dean of the College of Education at University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"We know we've got fourth-graders out there who think of themselves as by the time I'm eighteen I'm either going to be dead or in jail.," said Basile, "Can we turn that around by making sure that they understand that there are dollars there to get them into college? And it doesn't matter how much. We also know that even a little bit helps them to really think about their future."


Related Event

University of Missouri - St. Louis College of Education Presents a Symposium on School Transformation and Collective Impact

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

9:00 a.m. - 3:45 p.m.

UMSL's J.C. Penney Conference Center

For more information or to register for the event, call (314) 516-5655 or visit the symposium webpage.

Related Information

American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen
A long term public media commitment, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), to help communities implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis.

To view last night's town hall at Nine Network or find out how to get involved, visit the St. Louis American Graduate website.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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