Philadelphia’s high school dropout rates among Latino and African American males has long reached epidemic proportions—so much so that a taskforce has been formed to address the issue. On Wednesday, September 2, that taskforce will announce its plans to reduce the dropout rate among these populations.
This is an aggressive goal, but can it really be done? One area nonprofit that has led the way in combating the city’s dropout crisis is telling the taskforce, “Yes, you can—because yes, we did!”
Ten years ago, Nueva Esperanza, Inc., a local nonprofit founded by the Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia geared toward improving the quality of life within the Latino community, established a charter school with a goal of breaking the cycle of dropouts in Latino North Philadelphia. The school’s charter application dated November 1999 points out that 80 percent or more of Latino male youth who enter middle or junior high school never receive a diploma. But since that time, the Esperanza Academy Charter High School has graduated hundreds of male Latinos, many of whom entered high school at risk of dropping out. Though the charter school receives students from some of the city’s lowest-performing schools, its dropout rate is less than 1% for each of the past four years. The dropout rate among Latino males within the School District of Philadelphia exceeds 40 percent.
So what is Esperanza’s secret? Can the School District of Philadelphia duplicate that success?
According to Rev. Luis Cortés, President of Esperanza and a founder of the Esperanza Academy Charter High School, the District can in fact duplicate its successes. Doing so requires no secret ingredient. Rather, the success is achieved through a deliberately planned process that begins with a personal relationship with each student—and a long road of nurturing each young man through his academic journey.
“Every student has value,” said Cortés. Every student has strengths on which we can build. Communicating this truth through a personal relationship is often the first step toward preventing a dropout—a consideration that must be addressed before we begin to focus on academic achievement—whether they come to us performing below grade level or have a history of personal or familial challenges. And the day we get the student himself to honestly buy into that belief is the day true change begins. Our goal is for all students to have a post-secondary plan. The by-product of successfully moving students beyond high school is the virtual elimination of drop outs.”
David Rossi, CEO of the Esperanza Academy Charter High School added, “The school’s environment was strategically designed to enable our staff to truly maximize the individual needs of each student. When a student walks into our building, he senses something entirely different than the school structure from where he came.
Rather than walking through a facility in substandard or deplorable conditions, the student sees a building that is clean and well maintained—sending him a clear message he is valued and appreciated. Based on specific researched indicators, we identify our incoming ninth grade students who are at risk of dropping out. These students are provided extra supports such as individual mentoring. The student quickly gets a sense of being able to not only succeed, but excel. Because of these efforts, we have helped to turned so many lives of this city’s Latino males around and have guided them toward a successful academic career.”
Cortés concluded, “The thought that 8 of 10 young men do not finish high school—essentially dooming them to a life of poverty—gave us no choice but to address this crisis. And our mission has worked. It is our hope that our model and success will be duplicated by others—including the School District of Philadelphia.”
Key Facts About the Esperanza Academy Charter High School:
- During the 2008-2009 school year, only four of the school’s 743 students dropped out—a .5 percent dropout rate (2010 info pending).
- The school made AYP three of the last five school years.
- The school recorded a 96 percent graduation rate in 2009 (2010 info pending).
- 92 percent of the schools 2009 graduates were accepted into college, exceeding the state’s 73 percent average.
- 31 students passed Advanced Placement Tests in 2009 thereby receiving college credits (2010 info pending).
- 2009-10 Grade 11 Math and Reading proficiency levels above the city average.