Why is the graduation rate among young African-American men in Pinellas County the lowest in America, according to a national study? What can be done to keep young men engaged in school? How can we keep teens on a path toward earning at least a high school diploma and out of trouble while becoming productive members of society?
Even those who take issue with the methodology of the national study acknowledge that the graduation rate is far too low. And with the still disappointing results of many education reform programs, we are challenged to ask these questions and must be committed to finding solid solutions for our urban communities.
I grew up in a Baltimore neighborhood similar to South St. Petersburg, and could very easily have been one of those statistics making headlines today. I finally realized education was the means by which I could anchor my life.
As Head of School at Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg, where students from financially challenged families attend on full scholarships, I see education making a difference in the lives of our students and their families every day.
This school provides a supportive environment that includes a rigorous academic program taught by gender in small classes, standards for discipline, enrichment activities for developing social and life skills, and required family involvement. Eleven-hour school days, an 11-month school year, and Saturday activities minimize idle time, keeping children engaged and involved. And after our students graduate, our graduate support program guides them as they continue to high school, college and beyond.
As a result, 88 percent of Academy Prep graduates complete high school, and 60 percent continue to college, with the college-going rate climbing each year. While the Academy Prep village, including our parents, saves the children from an all-too-common life of marginalization, it is beautiful to see so many of them returning to strengthen our St. Petersburg village as productive citizens.
DeVere Beard is Head of School at the Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg.