The statistics are shocking, even more so when you remind yourself that behind each number is a human being:
• In the Philadelphia public schools, only 45 percent of the city’s African-American males graduate high school in four years.
• The city’s Latino male graduation rate is 43 percent.
• Only 30 percent of pregnant teenage girls finish high school.
• District-wide, there are between 7,000 and 8,000 unexcused absences reported every day.
• Each year, 8,000 students fail to return to high school – 8,000 young people barely, or not at all, qualified to work.
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission has called the city’s school dropout situation “horrific.” Research has shown that this situation perpetuates a downward spiral for these kids: educational failure, unemployment and un-employability, little to no self-sufficiency. The statistics are bleak.
We need to figure out a way to stop this.
Mayor Nutter has made keeping kids in school a priority of his administration and knows this is a serious problem for the entire community. A high dropout rate lowers the quality of the city’s workforce, thereby damaging the region’s future.
While there are many things that can be done within the schools, proven mentoring programs can help lower the dropout rate and reduce teen pregnancy.
Statistics from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program show that children with mentors are: 46 percent less likely than children without mentors to begin using illegal drugs; 52 percent less likely to skip school, and 33 percent less likely to even hit someone.
Mentoring can take many forms, but it does not have to take an extraordinary amount of the volunteer’s time, just effort and compassion. It can be having lunch in the park or shooting hoops, attending a performance or just hanging out and talking. Study after study shows that regular, one-to-one mentoring helps students stay away from drugs and violence, and increases their overall self-esteem.
This year, Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern Pennsylvania will match hundreds of Philadelphia students with qualified mentors. But there are hundreds more on our waiting list and many more we would like to reach before they think about dropping out or getting into trouble.
We do not want these children waiting for a mentor to become another statistic for the School Reform Commission. If they had mentors, more of them would stay in school, go on to higher education, get internships and jobs, and influence their friends, siblings and the community to do better.
Yes, the statistics on Philadelphia school dropouts are, indeed, “horrific.” But they do not have to be, and mentoring is part of the solution. The more mentors we have, the more we increase children’s odds of staying in school and, as they stay in school, the more prosperous our entire community will be.
Marlene L. Olshan is CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern Pennsylvania.