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Destination Graduation: A win-win for local students & the community 

By Jacqui D. SanarleBy Jacqui D. Sinarle

Thanks to Destination Graduation — the Stanislaus County Office of Education’s initiative to increase the percentage of students who graduate from local high schools — the county’s overall graduation rate has improved by 3.4 percent. Rising graduation rates are good for our community and for local business. And you can help increase grad rates even further by lending your support in the form of mentoring, donations and advisory leadership.

“Even though there has been an increase in the number of high school graduates from Stanislaus County, I still say we can do better,” says Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools (SCOE) Tom Changnon.

“When we began this new initiative in fall 2013, the statistic for graduation in four years was 78.7 percent,” Changnon observes. “The latest number is 82.1 percent. That’s good news, but it is imperative for the future of every student and for the future of this County to move the needle even more.”

A student’s career opportunities increase with a diploma in hand. In addition, better-educated citizens enhance the health of a community, and communities with educated work forces attract more businesses.

While the median earnings per year for a high school dropout is $21,000, a person with a high school diploma earns $29,900. That’s a difference of 30 percent more per year. Much of this difference is because high school dropouts are statistically more likely to be unemployed, receive welfare, contribute to high health costs and have less healthy children and perpetrate crimes resulting in jail time.

According to economic estimates, if the country’s 50 largest cities cut their dropout rates in half, it’s estimated that each city could increase home sales by $10.5 billion, support an additional 30,000 jobs, boost earnings by $4.1 billion and increase annual tax revenue by $536 million.

SCOE has identified many trends in local graduation and dropout rates. According to the latest statistics:

Graduation rates vary across ethnic groups, with Hispanic students having the lowest graduation rates (84.2 percent for females and 75.3 percent for males) and Asian students having the highest (91.3 percent for females and 83.8 percent for males). More male high school students drop out than females, with a total of 609 boys dropping out compared to 365 girls.

3rd Grade: A Barometer of Success

Recent research has found a strong link between a student’s ability to read at the third grade level by the end of third grade and his or her graduation from high school. To address this particular issue, SCOE and the Stanislaus Community Foundation are writing an application for the National Third Grade Reading Campaign and have identified at least two pilot schools that will allow them to follow students from Head Start experiences into kindergarten and through third grade.

“These students will be assessed with a common kindergarten readiness tool and have special opportunities provided to them throughout the summer, and we will support their parents and arm them with critical information, particularly about attendance,” Changnon says.

How You Can Make a DifferenceDestGrad

Local businesses can help increase graduation rates in our county with mentoring, donations, and advisory board leadership. Of the 108 schools that do not currently have any kind of a mentoring program for their students, 78 have stated they would like to start one.

Changnon asks business owners to take the time to mentor a student and urges employers to share information about mentoring with their employees and encourage them to mentor, as well.

“We know that young people need significant, stable adults in their lives to help guide the way,” Changnon says. SCOE is seeking mentors for all students, especially male adult mentors for boys.

“We want boys to see men coming to school and talking with them about the importance of education and reading books to underscore the importance of that skill,” Changnon explains.

Local residents who are interested in learning about mentor programs and mentoring are invited to attend the Mentor Summit

scheduled for January 23, 2015. Registration will be available through Sierra Vista.

“Keith Boggs (assistant Executive Officer for Stanislaus County) has said that if a place of business has ten interested mentors, he will set them up to support students at a school,” Changnon adds. Business owners who are interested in this opportunity may visit employeementors.com or call (209) 525-4375.

Businesses can also help grad rates grow by donating funds for programs like Road Trip—Journey to Success, a summer transitional program for at-risk 6th graders (soon to be 7th graders) that is planned for summer 2015.

“This experience, along with ongoing contact, reunions and continued support, is designed to inspire high school completion for students who aren’t expected to get there,” Changnon explains.

“As we build a community for these students, we hope to use technology as an incentive,” Changnon says. “The plan is to provide each student with access to a hand-held device, incorporate technology training into the Road Trip content and, if attendance targets are met, send the student home with the device. Never Boring has donated time to help design a name, logo and tag line for the Road Trip, and we thank them for their generosity.”

Donations and funding are being sought to supply the participants with hand-held devices. Interested parties may contact Susan Rich at (209) 238-1708 with suggestions or donations.

Another way businesses can support local grads is by attending “An Evening with Woz” at the Gallo Center on August 16. “This fundraiser for Destination Graduation brings Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computers and the genius behind the first home computer, to Modesto,” Changnon says. Tickets for “An Evening with Woz” may be purchased from the Gallo Center at galloarts.org.

Another way that businesses and individuals can help increase graduation rates is by becoming members of the Destination Graduation Advisory Board, which meets quarterly and shares updates, solicits input and plans activities.

Local businesses may also become business partners with Destination Graduation, Changnon says, promising more news on this opportunity in the future.

For information on joining the Destination Graduation Advisory Board, contact Judy Leitz at jleitz@stancoe.org or call (209) 238-1709.

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