Posted tagged ‘urban’

Catch Up and Ketchup

February 17, 2013

 Historic implications aside, African American employment rates are dismally low. To add salt to an infected wound, high school graduation rates in America’s high minority urban school systems teeters around 50% when measured against a typical 4 year high school cycle. These truths being stated make for a hazardous potent cocktail that is drunkenly destroying the fabric of urban neighborhoods, school districts, and municipalities nationwide.

The focus of this blog entry is job preparedness and the development of workplace skill sets.

Too often, African American teenagers do not seek work until they are twenty years of age or older. This trend must be reversed if a young African American population is to realize their earning potential.   

If young African-Americans are waiting until 20 years of age to secure minimum wage employment, they have a late start when compared to the number of 15 year-old children who secure minimum wage employment upon eligibility. The 20-year-old is 5 years behind  in terms of marketability,  the acquisition of job skills, experience, and short and long-term earnings and taxable wages.

As a high school teacher and Assistant Principal, I encouraged young people to seek employment at the one place where there is unlimited potential due to high turnover: Fast food restaurants.

Now, I in no way am advocating for the many fast food giants that churn out food of questionable quality. However, a young male or female can earn a federally mandated  wage, gain work experience, learn to work cooperatively, gain time management skills, build references, and develop many day-to-day life skills. 

As a teenager working long hours in a fast food restaurant, I developed some very basic skills that have, in some form or manner, afforded me the privilege of gaining employment within several domains. Whether as a a hard hat at a coal facility through college, school district employee, or an elected official, I’ve secured any job I’ve applied for over the last 30 years. 

How can part time employment at a fast food restaurant assist the most at risk urban minorities in gaining an understanding of life and vocation? I came to understand workplace climates, protocols, and politics by the time I was 16 years of age. I gained invaluable knowledge related to team work, selflessness, and how to work on and within a winning team. If you win, then we all win was the mantra of fast food employment and exists within many corporate structures to this day.

How can part time employment at a fast food restaurant assist the most at risk urban minorities in gaining an understanding of life and vocation? 

My first day of work/orientation at the fast food restaurant informed me that uniformity in appearance and operations were vitally important to the success of the employee and business.

I learned that there are stages, levels, and steps within the simplest of operations and systems. Within this fast food establishment, a new employee starts at the dead bottom by performing duties such as refilling napkin and drinking straw canisters, emptying trash, hosing parking lots, unloading delivery trucks, and cleaning bathrooms. I was never too proud to say, “No, I don’t do that”.

Note: Fast food bathrooms may just be the filthiest public bathrooms on earth. 

Once an employee has performed these duties with regularity and within a certain performance rubric, food preparation was the next step  on the career lattice.  Hours of cutting onions, mixing sauces, prepping meat, and exchanging heavy CO2 bottles were just several of the duties performed. Although not glamorous, it was certainly better than cleaning toilets.

Once I was seen as an actively engaged and committed employee, I moved to actually cooking the food. I was responsible for delivering “the package”. The package contained the food items that made this fast food establishment millions of dollars per year. 

As my trustworthiness, performance, adaptability, timeliness, willingness, quick math computation skilks, and human to human contact were assessed to be adequate, I quickly moved from the fryer to the cash register. This was a time when the register person had to take a math test to gauge suitability to touch the money. The cash registers of the early 80’s did not compute change.  Eventually, I ascended to shift supervisor. This promotional track took all of one month and I was still a teenager. Best of all, I found my way to the money.

In essence, children must be raised with the understanding that work is as much a part of life, if not more so, than sleeping and jumping from social media platform to platform.  It is unfortunate that no matter the economic status of the family, we refuse to lay upon our children that hard work, early and often, reaps results and establishes a foundation by which America was built. 

No man or woman should be too proud to work an honest day for honest pay. 

This is important to note because as I told my students, one has to start at the bottom. You have to work hard, be on time, learn the job, develop customer service skills, deliver results, and treat each working day, whether sweeping floors, changing oil, or running a Fortune 500 company, etc., with pride and genuine effort. 

Throughout the summer of 1983, I received compensation at the rate of $3.35 per hour.  


Process Over Event: From Elementary Absenteeism to Secondary Dropout

August 4, 2010

Any given school day, across this vast landscape (USA), a kaleidoscope of urban minority school-aged youth are walking the street in various transitional states. Some children are huddled at the bus stop awaiting the arrival of the school bus while others are walking to school in small groups. However, many teenage males are congregating on street corners, females are sitting on porches, and both can be seen frequenting the neighborhood store for high calorie snack foods and drinks. For many, they are in the midst of transitioning from frequent absenteeism to truancy to dropping out.  You can witness this as one drives through any rapidly dilapidating neighborhood. The number of students seen in the neighborhoods while school is in session does not take into account the hundreds more who inhabit their residences without leaving for hours and perhaps days at a time. These children, of varying ages, are not in school during school hours.  Beyond being a compulsory policy, why are so many children absent from school, leaving school, and not graduating? What myriad factors are contributing to this dilemma? What policies and programmatic initiatives can reverse this skyrocketing trend (Rumberger, 2008; Steinberg, 2004)?

As a secondary public school student through the late 1970’s and 1980’s, my understanding was and remains that academic achievement is an active engagement that is accomplished through ongoing physical presence at an educational institution. Attendance enforcement in urban school districts has been a long-standing problem that affects school budgets, local law enforcement, and the judicial system.  Research has a divergent view of this quandary.  The existing complexities in urban communities and institutions coupled with a negative economic malady further contribute to the malaise associated with the graduation and dropout rates of inner city minority students (Orfield, 2004; Vartanian, 1999).

On the school front, things are not palatable either. Urban school districts are limited in their capacity to reach the thousands of students who are at risk for dropping-out.  Safety concerns, the lack of participant cohesion, high student-teacher ratios, dilapidated facilities, and performance pressures only inspire students to consider leaving school. Furthermore, programs earmarked for internal student support have inadequate funding and are vulnerable to elimination. Thus, these internal support programs do not receive the support necessary to assist a large number of students in overcoming the varying obstacles affecting their academic success, social and vocational development, mobility, and retention of those most at-risk for dropping out (Adelman, 2000; Gerwitz, 2009; Harris, 2007).

Gaps in the dropout research exist due to an absence of a standardized means by which to measure dropout rates nationwide as well as geographic and subgroup representation. Because the formulas used by school districts, state education agencies, and researchers vary, research has been conducted under the guise of different formulas.  Also, due to the No Child Left Behind Act, school district reports and associated achievement studies rely on graduation rates rather than dropout rates. 

Frequent absenteeism from school assuredly increases the amount of time students must officially enroll in school while acting as a gateway to dropping out of school.  Marino (2008) identified three prevailing instances of nonappearance:  Absenteeism, truancy, and school refusal.  Marino defines absenteeism as a period-of-time away from school legally approved by the parent while truancy is absenteeism without parental approval.  Too often, the assumed lack of adult supervision for potentially truant students leads to delinquency and anti-social behaviors.

Psychological research (Reid, 1999) indicates that truant students and unrelenting absenteeism  yield a population that has ” lower academic self-concepts, lower general levels of self-esteem, greater patterns of alienation from school over certain issues, higher levels of neuroticism and higher levels of antisocial behavior”.  Lastly, school refusal is an “inappropriate fear of leaving home” and/or an “inappropriate fear of going to school”.  The fear of leaving home can manifest itself through clingy behaviors used as a coping mechanism for adolescents who have a historically cultural dependence on the family for safety and support.  This parallels the fear of going to school which can eventually elicit separation anxiety and an overwhelming feeling of loss coupled with a fear of being alone (AACAP, 2008; Eisen, et al, 2006).  These behaviors, if not addressed, can promote social and educational problems throughout a student’s life. These problems are assuredly factors that further ensure academic failure. Unfortunately, there is not enough emphasis on studies relative to the possible link between truancy and psychological criteria such as anxiety (Brandibas, et al., 2004).

Absenteeism generally occurs at the elementary level when students have limited control and decision making capacity relative to their movement through the community.  Truancy develops from absenteeism, often evolves into anti-social behaviors, and are assigned to secondary students who are deemed responsible enough to care for their transport to and from school as well as their own supervision through the peak hours outside of school.

No matter the cause, academic failure can seriously malign a student’s ambition towards graduation.  The ongoing absence from school or class can result in academic failure, which is amongst the contributing factors for dropping-out (Mayer & Mitchell, et al., 1993; McCluskey, 2004). Reports (Ormrod, 2008; Rumberger and Lim, 2008; Schargel, 2007) have suggested that potential drop-outs can exhibit characteristics and risk behaviors as early as elementary school.  Elementary school aged children who demonstrate low attendance rates are at risk for academic failure for a variety of reasons.  These students do not have the opportunity to grow cognitively, socially, and academically due to increased time away from the structured learning environment.   The earlier in life a student exhibits such repetitive behaviors, the higher the likelihood for a student to be developmentally and academically behind their peers throughout their educational career. Thus, the drop out process can be set in motion by a variety of risk factors as early as elementary school (Alexander, 2001; Rumberger, October, 2008). Students entering high school are often several years older than their grade level peers due to prior retention and periods of high absenteeism. Age appropriateness along with course failure, retention, and developmental deficiencies are factors that contribute to dropping out (Rumberger, October, 2008).

Status Variables and Alterable Variables 

Lehr (2007) identifies two explicit tracks by which drop-outs are associated: status variables and alterable variables.  As an extension to Bloom (1980), status variables are comprised of standard factors that are unchangeable or a challenge to change due to complex dynamics.  Alterable variables consist of characteristics that are prone to flux and can experience a transformation with the application of appropriately aligned interventions.  Status variables and Alterable variables consist of a number of contributing factors:

Drop-out Status Variables and Alterable Variables

Race/Ethnicity Behaviors
Gender Student Grades
Socioeconomic Status (SES) Absenteeism
Parental Employment School Policy
Family Structure School Climate
School Size and Type Retention
Age Support Services
Region Attitudes

(Lehr, 2007; Rumberger, 1995)

 Although influential, no factor in isolation can be assigned to dropouts without considering the presence and impact of other contributory factors as well as the impact from the other variable. Indicating all potential contributory factors further assists in the identification of those most at-risk for dropping-out.  In other words, an exhaustive investigation into multiple contributory factors reduces the possibility of under identification errors when identifying potential dropouts. With this, the combination of complex predictors is limitless as they play significant roles in the drop-out crisis.

Interventions to reverse dropout numbers have been instituted using both status and alterable variables as criteria. Recognizing what can be changed and what cannot be changed are important when designing intervention strategies and programs for at-risk students who have the propensity to drop-out of school. Although informative and influential in decision-making, status variables are comprised of factors that extend beyond the scope of school district interventions. Research (Christenson, 2004, page 36; Lehr, 2007) indicates that schools are best suited to address the alterable variables due to their “utility” and capacity to change.  Nevertheless, the convergence of status variables and alterable variables toward comprehensive policy development that positively affects the outcomes of student achievement is a topic for further investigation.

Adelman, H., Taylor, L. (2000). Moving Prevention from the Fringes into the Fabric of School Improvement. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation. 11(1). Retrieved January 28, 2010 from

Alexander, K., Entwisle, D., & Kabbani, N. (2001). The Dropout Process in Life Course Perspective: Early Risk Factors at Home and School.  Teachers College Record. Retrieved on April 3, 2009 from

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (May, 2008). Facts for Families: Children Who won’t Go to School (Separation Anxiety). Retrieved on January 27, 2010 from

 Bloom, B. (February, 1980). The New Direction in Educational Research: Alterable Variables. Phi Delta Kappan,  61(6). 382.  Retrieved on January 10, 2010 from

Brandibas, G., Jeunier, B., Canet, C., & Foursate, R. (February, 2004). Truancy, School Refusal, and Anxiety. School Psychology International, 25(1). Abstract retrieved February 1, 2010 from

Christenson, S., Thurlow, M. (2004). School Dropouts: Prevention, Considerations, Interventions, and Challenges. American Psychology Society, 13(1). Retrieved on January 29, 2010 from

Eisen, A., Engler, L., & Sparrow, J. (2006). Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety or School Refusal. Oakland, CA, New Harbinger Publications.

Gerwitz, C. (April 1, 2009). Rules Allowing Extended Time on Graduation. Education Week, 28(27), 1.

Harris, L., Tsoi-A-Fatt, R. (July 12, 2007). Recommended Changes to the No Child Left Behind Act to Address Workforce Issues. Center for Law and Social Policy. Retrieved on January 28, 2010 from

Lehr, C.A., Johnson, D. R., Bremer, C., Cosio, A. (2007). What Do We Know About Who Drops Out and Why?  Retrieved on June 10, 2009 from

Marino, R. (2008).  AAP Textbook of Pediatric Care [Online].  Retrieved on January 11, 2009 from

Mayer, G. and Mitchell, L. Clementi, T., Clement-Robertson, E., Myatt, R., & Bullara, D. T. (1993). A Dropout Prevention Program for At-Risk High School Students:  Emphasizing Consulting to Promote Positive Classroom Climates, Education and Treatment of Children 16(2), 135 – 146.

McCluskey, C, Bynum, T., and Patchin, J. (2004). Reducing Chronic Absenteeism: an Assessment of an Early Truancy Initiative. Crime & Delinquency. Vol. 50. Retrieved on April 3, 2009 from

Orfield, G., Losen, D., Wald, J., & Swanson, C., (2004). Losing Our Future: How Minority

Youth are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis, Cambridge, MA: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. Contributors: Advocates for Children of New York, The Civil Society Institute. Retreived on April 20, 2009 from

Ormrod, J. (2008). Educational Psychology Developing Learners. Excerpt retrieved April 2, 2009 from

Reid, K. (1999). Truancy and Schools, London: Routledge.

Rumberger, R. & Lim, S. (October, 2008). Why Students Drop Out of School:  A Review of 25 Years of Research.  Retrieved March 30, 2009 from

Rumberger, R. (1995). Dropping out of Middle School: A Multilevel Analysis of Students and Schools. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 583-625. Retrieved January 18, 2010 from

Schargel, P., Thacker, T., & Bell, J. (2007). From At Risk to Academic Excellence: What Successful Leaders Do.  Excerpt retrieved April 3, 2009 from

Steinberg, A., Almeida, C. (June, 2004). The Dropout Crisis: Promising Approaches in Prevention and Recovery. Retrieved  January 26, 2010 from

Vartanian, T., Gleason, P. (1999). Do Neighborhood Conditions Affect High School Dropout and College Graduation Rates? Journal of Socio-Economics. 28(1). Abstract retrieved January 25, 2010 from


Building Capacity Through Peer to Peer Mentoring Programs

May 2, 2010

I had a significantly opportunistic and life changing experience while employed by an urban public school district in central Pennsylvania.  As a fourth year teacher in 2001, I overheard that the district had access to approximately $150,000.00 US to implement an in-house alternative school program for truant and excessively absent students.  As I sat idly in my apartment that weekend, I analyzed the larger dilemma and began to construct a proposal for the district’s first attempt at a night school since 1969. I recall working feverishly all weekend and printing the final proposal late Sunday night. I returned to work on Monday and submitted my proposal to the head principal who reviewed the document and was satisfied by the contents. She further stated that she would present the proposal when the principals convened for their weekly meeting at the Office of the Superintendent.  

Several days passed when I received a telephone call requesting my presence at the superintendent’s office.  At this meeting, and as occurs with most originators of a program or mechanism, I was asked to leave my teaching assignment and subsequently offered my first administrative assignment supervising five teachers and 150 at-risk students.  To this date, I have not looked back since.

Alternative education

The students/attendees of the program were provided a core course daily assignment within the minimum time required by the state department of education. Further, an on-site employment preparation program was made available by a local African American female* who possessed a 501c3 (non-profit) with a focus on job skills and fiscal responsibility.  To make a 6-month story short, whole group average daily attendance increased from thirty-one percent (31%) to ninety-two percent (92%) while more than thirty percent (30+%) gained employment through the support and efforts of the kind but ambitious lady with the 501c3. Bottom line, communicating our desire and the dire necessity for students to attend and actively participate served as the lifeblood of the program.

Despite feeling possessive of my first program, it was time to let it go and allow the lettered professionals nurture and expand a small idea into a fully functioning alternative education program.  I was truly happy with the level of participation, learning, and confidence building wrought over the previous six months.


The success of the program coupled with fiscal accountability and strong program dynamics helped me gain access to the ‘big house’, otherwise known as central administration.  As the newest and youngest member of the grant writing team, it was in this seven foot by thirteen foot room that a phenomenon was unfolding that would drastically alter my perception of public school education.

The initiative: Renaissance Program

Several months had passed before I was called to the Office of the Superintendent and informed that I was being given an assignment to meet with a local contractor turned banker turned philanthropist.  Using available state tax credits, the gentleman was interested in funding an after school program.  Understanding that he was limited in his ability to create such, I became the point man given great responsibility to create and supervise a successful program although I had no background relative to afterschool programs beyond knowledge of their existence.  The gentleman was willing to put forth $50,000.00 US dollars for the first year with an option for a three year commitment if the program exhibited results.  At the time, he was only concerned with the academic achievement aspect of the program and gave little consideration to the external influences and possible affects.  We didn’t know the externalities would eventually take center stage as influential components towards success.

First round draft picks

Although I would not consider myself scholarly at the time, I was able to work within budgets and create successful programs using researched theory.  I wanted to work with a state testing grade level that was mature enough to be actively engaged, but still required guidance and support. With this, I chose the fifth grade class of one elementary school.  I created an application that included general program information and several parental consent forms.  I received fifty-four completed applications from which twelve students would be randomly selected to participate.  As a marketing major in undergraduate school, I fully understood the importance of marketing hype; especially with a voluntary educational program. I held a thirty minute ooh and ahh session in the atrium of the school where a locally well known pastor reached into a container and randomly extracted twelve names.  Students were overwhelmingly excited when their names were announced.  Funny enough, to this day, I don’t believe all twelve elementary students even knew what they were excited about but what they did know, however, is they were finally chosen to be a part of something. Still, I was unsure whether the $50,000.00 US would be adequate to run a three hour per day, four days per week, thirty week program. Working within these limited parameters forced me to be creative in terms of curriculum and personnel choices.

Each one, teach one

I did not have enough funding available to hire teachers for part time work.  Therefore, I was inspired to look elsewhere for staff/personnel.I’ve always been a proponent of the ‘Each One, Teach One’ mantra and felt elementary students could benefit from a positive experience with high school students.  Growing up, we always looked up to and wanted to emulate the older kids.  This did not always transfer into appropriate decisions, but in a controlled environment, it had the potential to work.  I pitched the idea of having six of our most ambitious high school students become paid tutors (under adult supervision) to the elementary population randomly chosen to participate in the program.  Once I sold the idea to the philanthropist and senior administration, I immediately created an application to be distributed to the junior class at the local high school.   To my dismay, I received a paltry number of applications by the deadline, but the quality, not quantity, was of the utmost importance at this point.

I was able to reduce the number of high school applicants to a manageable number and began a vigorous interview period with the high school applicants. Fortunately, the six high school students were secured within several days and I was able to schedule an introductory training session by week’s end.

We were excited to see if the 2:1 mentee to mentor ratio would work. All fingers were crossed in hopes of success. 


I did not want to use the same texts and resources the students had access to everyday.  If I were to utilize the same ole, same ole, the program would surely be doomed to failure.  Additionally, I did not have the funding to purchase anything with a hard cover. Thus, I needed something fresh and affordable within the remaining $25,000.00 US dollars.  I began to search online and through every school merchandise mailer for a computer based math and reading curriculum that could be used through a twelve month licensing agreement.  With the help of a friend in the Information Technology Department, we were able to find, test, and purchase an affordable computer based math and reading curriculum. 

180 minutes

The three hour after school program incorporated an hour for homework, an hour for math, and an hour for reading.  This provided time for students to work within a hybrid context ensuring that traditional studies existed alongside the technologically progressive aspect of the program.  Further, opportunities for interaction and purposeful dialogue between the high school mentors and elementary mentees occurred.  After some time, I began to observe a type of older sibling-younger sibling relationship develop between the students.  We had, in essence, set the tone for a mentoring program within the existing tutoring component.

Final obstacle

Anyone who has had the opportunity to piece together field trips or programs for students knows transportation costs are often the make or break factor in the sustainability of a program. After some thought,  I decided the high school mentors/tutors would be transported to the elementary school across town by simply riding the high school bus that drops off in that section of town.  They were able to access the six o’clock athletic bus to get home at the end of the day.  Problem solved.

All in all, the success of the program was not limited to the academic success of the fifth grade mentees.  The aggressive application of a technology and computer based curriculum enhanced my perception of technology integration in the classroom. Although a hybrid model in the very least, a heightened sense of accomplishment was evidenced during site observations and informal dialogue. The young students were hooked on the technology.  Further, peer to peer student mentoring developed organically as positive relationships were formed and socially responsible practices emanated from the high school mentors.


High school student mentors

  • Employment/work experience
  • Teaching
  • Mentoring
  • Responsibility
  • Letters of recommendation
  • One hundred percent graduated to a four year college/university
  • Several entered college as elementary education majors

Elementary school student mentees

  • Averaged 178 points and 185 points above the districts fifth grade average on PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) math and reading examinations
  • Most entered the districts advanced placement high school of science and technology
  • Purposeful use of technology
  • Reduction in disciplinary action
  • Increased daily attendance
  • Increased parent participation

And the rest, my friends, is history.