Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Every Student. Every Day.

Last Wednesday I felt like a freshman, tense and excited, as I started work at a high school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The principal is new, charismatic and happy to have Partnership with Children working in the school. The main objective of my work and the reason the agency is in the school is to raise attendance levels as part of a broader initiative by Mayor Bloomberg called “Every Student. Every Day.” It is no wonder the Mayor is resolute to raise attendance levels. Nearly 20 percent of all New York City school students missed one month of school or more last year. Research shows that three out of four students who are severely or chronically absent in the sixth grade never graduate from high school. (Read about "Every Student. Every Day.")

You might wonder why a school in the Lower East Side would be chosen for the attendance initiative. The neighborhood to some is a beacon of gentrification with its condos, boutiques and wine bars. But there are still pockets of poverty, drugs, gang activity, and family discord which reflect that area’s grittier past. It is the population effected by such issues that makes up my school's student body and community.

Absenteeism rates are highest in low-income neighborhoods. Disregard for education is a deeply entrenched problem in such poor, urban areas and one that carries over from generation to generation. Parents who had bad experiences in school (often the same schools their children are later enrolled in) transfer to their children their own mistrust of education, along with a belief that graduating high school and college is not necessary for personal growth. While adolescents are loathe to admit it they often reflect their parents values. I was not surprised then to find myself, the very first day of school, on the phone calling parents to track down missing students. As a social worker I hope I can help break this cycle of hopelessness that renders school irrelevant for so many youth.