Executive Perspective                                     Page 44


A Total Child Model We Should




 Daniel Domenech

According to the most recent statistics, the high school dropout rate today is the lowest it has ever been at 7.4 percent. That number, however, hides the discrepancy that exists among categories of students in our education system. Whereas the dropout rate for white students is 5.1 percent, it is 8 percent for blacks and 15.1 percent for Hispanic students.

In many of our urban centers, 50 percent of our black and Hispanic students are failing to graduate from high school. Consequently, in what we refer to as the “95/5 Dilemma,” our entire education system is judged by our inability to provide those students with the quality education that would keep them in school.

This is hardly a new phenomenon. Although admittedly the situation has improved for our minority students (20 years ago, the dropout rate for blacks was 13.2 percent and 32.4 percent for Hispanics), the current figures remain unacceptable. Poverty and bigotry and lack of access still prevent too many of our youngsters from getting the quality education they are entitled to.

We can credit the improvement we have seen to those individuals who for years have been fighting against racial injustice and economic inequity.

Milliken’s Magic
Bill Milliken was 20 years old when he left the comforts of a middle-class home in the suburbs of Pittsburgh to move into a two-room tenement apartment in Harlem. After a tough adolescence, when Bill consistently got himself into trouble in school, he underwent an epiphany after a summer camp experience sponsored by a youth advocacy group called Young Life. In the summer of 1960, Milliken began his lifelong quest to help at-risk teens. You can read about his fabulous journey in his latest book, From the Rearview Mirror.

In 1977, Milliken and his friends started Communities In Schools, one of the most successful dropout prevention programs available and now operating in 27 states and the District of Columbia. I first became aware of CIS when I was the superintendent in Fairfax County, Va. Although at that time Fairfax was considered one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, we had pockets of poverty that included schools with a high percentage of students with limited English proficiency on free and reduced-price lunch. Those were our lowest-performing schools in the system and the targets for our turnaround efforts.

Through previous experiences in the districts I worked with in New York, I had become a strong proponent of the education of the total child. Poor and disadvantaged children often require resources beyond what the school can provide. Shelter, health services, nutrition and adult care, if absent, become strong deterrents to a child’s ability to succeed in school. It does take a village to educate a poor child, but often schools focus on meeting the educational needs and lack the resources to deal with the external factors that make learning possible.

To my delight, I discovered the elegance of the CIS approach to dropout prevention. In his lifelong mission to save our children, Milliken had found that, in order to help at-risk students, the schools need someone to connect the dots. They need an individual who will free the school staff to concentrate on teaching while someone else coordinates outside resources inside the school to support the students’ academic and social service needs. The CIS booklet describes this as “community-based, integrated student services which are interventions that improve student achievement by connecting community resources with both the academic and social service needs of the student.” CIS focuses on the education of the total child.

Saving Lives
In my role as the chair of CIS Virginia, I have been to an elementary school where a dynamic principal, with CIS support, turned around achievement levels from atrocious to all students passing the state tests. In a high school, I saw student dropouts who had been persuaded to return to school to participate in a CIS-sponsored credit-recovery program that will allow them to graduate on time. Robert McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, is so impressed with CIS that last year he pushed for state funding of the program. It now is expanding to additional locations in the state.

Milliken jokes about how the only books he has ever read are the ones he has written and that he completed three freshman years in college. He tries to downplay the role he has played in saving thousands of young lives through the simple strategy of loving a child en route to success.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org


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