Tonight I read an article at CNN.com about the focus of America's Promise Alliance, a group formed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and chaired by his wife, Alma Powell. The APA is heightening awareness of the severe high school dropout rate in the United States by conducting studies and holding dropout prevention summits across the country. Hundreds of educators, business leaders and grassroots activists come together to brainstorm methods to solve the problem.
There is a crisis in the US education system. The APA did a study in 2008 that concluded only 52 percent of students in the nation's 50 largest school systems graduate with a high school diploma in four years. Among Hispanic and African-American students, the percentages are 57 and 53 percent respectively. The national graduation rate is only 70 percent.
What's happening with our sons and daughters that they find it difficult to believe their education -- even on the basic level -- is an important foundation piece for what they want to achieve in the future? The article quoted Secretary Powell who said, "Finishing high school is absolutely basic to being a success at any place in our society. We can't afford this."
Indeed, the United States can not afford this.
The article highlighted the work of Willie Thornton (pictured above), coordinator of the dropout prevention program for Greenville High School in Greenville, Alabama. Although his school has a 75 percent graduation, many do not receive their diploma within four years. It was Mr. Thornton's responsibility this past school year to mentor, encourage and counsel the 70 students identified as being at-risk for dropping out. I found Mr. Thornton's observation on the work he does to be quite interesting.
"The benefit [of the prevention program] is basically for a student to say that 'I can' and 'I've raised my self-esteem enough,' because prior to that most of them in their hearts have already quit...What we do here is try to gain some sort of success story that they own. And we try to build story by story. That gains a lot of energy and hope. When you lose hope, you lose everything."
These children lack the confidence to believe they have within themselves the ability to successfully achieve a basic, but important goal. Within that mindset, they grow to be adults who lack the basic self-regard that helps them dream, set goals, achieve success, make a solid contribution to their families, communities and the nation as a whole. Yet, we need their innate talents and gifts more than ever before.
Starting right now, begin to build the self-esteem of some child. Focus on the person hidden within until they can begin to see their own greatness. Point the way to a destiny greater than themselves and don't allow them to be defined by their present circumstances, nor past behavior.