Congratulations to the Yonkers Public Schools on raising the graduation rate.
The education gap is the main driver behind the growing national income gap. We see it right here in Westchester. The luck of being raised just a few miles up Central Avenue determines a student’s chances for success. If we are to close the yawning disparity right here in Yonkers, we need to set a higher bar.
While it is great that we’ve increased high-school graduation rates, we know that is just the start. If our students are to thrive in the economy of tomorrow, they need to do far more than just meet the graduation requirements.
Over the last 10 years, Yonkers Partners in Education, a local not-for-profit, has been a proud partner with the Yonkers Public Schools to help increase not only the graduation rate, but also college acceptances and graduation. Supported by private donations from local benefactors and businesses with concerns about how prepared today’s students will be for the workplace of the future, we provide extended-day learning, mentoring, and a host of other services to support students and their families on their journey through college. And it is working.
After placing YPIE College Advisors in the district’s high schools, we saw applications and acceptances to colleges increase. But we’ve learned that graduating from high school and being accepted to college is the easy part. Remaining there is the key. And so our emphasis has been on making sure that students have the academic skills, habits, and mindsets to succeed.
To develop those, we have to first acknowledge that there is no silver bullet to improving the outcomes for students. No single piece of technology, curriculum decision, or programmatic adjustment will overcome the forces of poverty, institutional racism, and history that weigh on our students every day.
In formulating our goals and program, we’ve started with focusing on the desired outcome. We’ve looked at what students will ultimately need to be prepared for the jobs of the future, many of which don’t even exist yet. So we offer programs to help students develop the sort of skills they will need to remain lifelong learners: curiosity, growth mindset, resilience, adaptability, and collaborative thinking. In a world where artificial intelligence can replace rote tasks, these skills will become increasingly more important.
Second, we know that students need to be academically ready for post-secondary success. That means expecting that our students can master math, science, and writing at college-ready levels, well above the current levels required to graduate from high school.
Third, we need to explicitly teach students the skills they’ll need to live independent lives.
Everyone can remember a moment when they forgot a password, or struggled to maintain their calendar, or worried about social media, or even tried to sew on a button. Those simple acts can trip up a student who is grappling with challenging subject matter and the new burdens of self-responsibility. We don’t need them to wait until they fall behind in college to learn to seek help and support in navigating this rapidly changing world.
So while the 82.8 percent high school graduation rate is a great start, there is still work to be done to benefit Yonkers students. We believe in the talent and promise of all the students we support and we will celebrate fully when Yonkers high school graduates successfully complete college, are thriving in the future economy, and providing meaningful contributions to their communities.
This opinion piece, by YPIE Chief Program Officer, Sam Wallis, was published on LoHud.com.