Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 6, 2014

Come together and help mentor

Students need people on whom they can count

Kokomo Tribune

— For more than a decade and under the auspices of reform, Indiana has been making dramatic changes to its K-12 schools. It’s added more standardized tests measuring student performance, tied the results to teacher pay and school funding, and changed graduation requirements aimed at improving student achievement. One of the overriding goals has been to get more students through school and out the door with a high school diploma.

It’s worked. Though Indiana changed the way it calculates its graduation rates, the number of students graduating with a high school degree has risen both before and after the change. In 2012, Indiana’s graduation rate was just above 88 percent, up from 76 percent in 2006 when the new graduation-rate measurement went into place.

But increasing the number of high school graduates is not the same as producing more students who are ready for college.

According to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, almost 1 in 3 public high school graduates in the state needs remediation in the basic skills of math, writing and reading at college. Among students who graduate with the state’s Core 40 college-preparatory diploma, about 40 percent are required to take and pay for remedial courses in college – classes that earn them no credit toward graduation but often delay, or derail, their path toward a college degree.

Character counts

Yet, in all our discussions of college success rates, we look at facts and figures — numbers that don’t give us a clue about the who in these discussions. We can look at socio-economic factors and glean how ethnicity and income can be factored into an equation about which children are less likely to succeed.

The math doesn’t tell us if the economically disadvantaged student was smart. It doesn’t say if someone was there when she got home from school every day, or whether there was a responsible adult present on the weekend.

When we think of the people who made us who we are, we think of our parents and grandparents. We think of how hard they worked, how they never made excuses, how they were willing to stand up for what they believed was right. It is their character that we think of.

We believe a lot of the problems Indiana youth encounter when they get to college have to do with believing they are going to succeed. For some, it will take more than the preparations of high school to persevere. They will need to work harder, take advantage of tutoring and office hours to get extra help. But most of all, they must believe they are able to complete college. They must not give up.

How can schools build character in our youth? We know counseling staff has been cut and that high school counselors are strained, finding it difficult to connect to each child in any meaningful way. But we also know when youth are given guidance, they are more likely to succeed. We believe high school counselors should do what their titles say they do: counsel. Not just help high-schoolers through the emotional hurdles of being adolescent, but be given the tools to recognize when a youth has potential and just needs someone who has their back.

And we want to see a community come together to raise our children up. It’s been said it takes a village. But the villagers we want to see get involved are already busy. We need to convince them this is time well spent. If our bank CEOs and our city leaders and our attorneys got involved, imagine what kind of mentoring program we could build.

Schools can’t pass the buck on this. They are best equipped to facilitate our children’s success. They must provide nonpartisan, non-discriminatory mentoring programs that will unite our youth with people whom they really can look up to. People who can say, “I think you’re going to be good at this. Keep going. Don’t give up.”