The greatly improved dropout rate in the San Antonio Independent School District—reported in the Rivard Report on Nov. 6, “Inner City School Success: San Antonio’s Best-Kept Secret,” is certainly good news for the schools, the children and their families, and the future of San Antonio.
Congratulations to the SAISD educators, faculty, staff, and administration—and the students and their families—on this accomplishment.
The San Antonio Area Foundation has been a player in reducing the dropout rate in Bexar County for the past three years. We decided, through a collaborative process with our donors, Board, community and nonprofit agencies to devote half of our discretionary funds to raising the high school completion rate in Bexar County. Our research showed that we needed to focus on middle school students because schools started to lose students as early as sixth grade.
Once lost, they rarely came back (see: “The Importance of Middle School in High School Completion“). On the other hand, if we can keep students engaged through middle school, we are likely to keep them through high school completion.
Further research showed that out-of-school-time (OST) programs are the most effective way to keep students engaged at school (see: Recruiting and Retaining Middle School Students in Out-of-School Time Programs). These programs also give them safe and productive activities during that time period after school and before parents come home from work—the time when young people are most likely to get into trouble.
Most of us know, or have had our own middle school students. In any case, we were all that age once. We know that middle school students have needs.
- They are extremely self-conscious. They need opportunities to feel a sense of achievement.
- They are beginning to understand what it means to be an adult. They need opportunities to see themselves as participants in the larger society.
- They need structure and boundaries. They are older and capable of working with adults to begin to set their own rules and limitations.
- They are developing socially and intellectually. They need opportunities to use these new talents and to make meaningful contributions to their world.
- They need the supportive and positive relationships of caring adults and peers. They need positive role models.
Quality programs will provide these opportunities in a supportive environment.
This is a specialized area of education and there are many challenges to providing programs for middle school students.
- These students are busier and more autonomous than younger children and less inclined to take part in adult-supervised activities. They need opportunities to learn and exercise leadership skills.
- Students from low-income families have fewer choices available to them to participate in high quality programs.
- To compound the problem for low-income families, parents often rely on middle school students to help with household chores and to care for younger siblings. Families need to be informed and involved in the OST programs to support their middle school children’s opportunities.
- Finally, most federal funding supports OST programs for elementary school students. The Area Foundation identified a gap in funding for middle school students and wanted to help fill that gap.
The early warning indicators of losing a student are poor attendance, poor behavior and declining academic performance. These indicators start to exhibit as early as sixth grade. It is critical to intervene in a positive way for these students. As a result of this research, the Area Foundation has targeted our high school completion program on out-of-school time programs that specifically focus on improving school attendance, behavior and academic performance.
Over the past three years, we have awarded more than $940,000 to 25 different agencies that provide after-school, Spring Break, and Summer Break programs. We have seen extremely powerful programs that provide academic assistance, STEM-related challenges, creative writing, visual and digital arts, and leadership opportunities to young people whose families would not be able to afford them.
These programs also provide nutritious food, education on healthy living, and life skills such as budgeting and financial management.
A September 27, 2013 editorial in the San Antonio Express-News, “Curbing Truancy a Community Effort,” focused on truancy in Bexar County and the need for a more effective approach to address truancy and the economic impact that it has on the school districts, not to mention the entire community.
Our stand at the Area Foundation is that we will support high quality, accessible OST programs in San Antonio and Bexar County that provide students with the tools, self-confidence, and experiences to improve attendance, behavior and academic performance.
Through programs like these, along with the support of the City, private and corporate donors, and the hard work of our educators, we are starting to see positive results. These programs provide young people with opportunities to grow, learn respect for self and others, and to know that they have real-life opportunities to do what they love to do. The focus is not solely on making sure that nothing bad happens—the focus is on making sure that something good happens.
Most of all, young people need to know that there are people in their community who care and want to help them succeed. If you would like to provide financial assistance to these kinds of programs, the San Antonio Area Foundation can help you through donating to our high school completion program. Please contact Gavin Nichols, firstname.lastname@example.org, (210) 242-4720 for more information.
Here are some good resources for additional reading.
- San Antonio Area Foundation White Papers on High School Completion: www.saafdn.org/Research
- Afterschool Alliance : www.afterschoolalliance.org
- Excel Beyond the Bell SA: www.beyondthebellsa.org
- Harvard Family Research Project: www.hfrp.org
- The Wallace Foundation: www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/after-school
- The Wallace Foundation recently released a study of after-school arts programs around the nation, highlighting San Antonio’s SAY Sí (see: www.wallacefoundation.org/somethingtosay. This study was the subject of a Rivard Report article by Bekah McNeel last week: “SAY Sí: A National Model After-School Arts Program.”
Gavin Nichols is the program officer at the San Antonio Area Foundation for Animal Services and High School Completion grantmaking and program manager for the Area Foundation’s Animal No-kill program. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter at @gavnichols. He also has Facebook and Twitter pages under @NoKillSA. Gavin is a 5th generation Texan, born and raised in Dallas; but considers himself a San Antonian after living here for the past 28 years. He is a family man, parishioner at St. Helena Catholic Church, and a mediocre, but avid golfer.