Linking School to 'College and Career' Motivates At-Risk Students

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Transfer high schools like mine, West Brooklyn Community High School, exist for the students caught in the chasm between dropping out and being a high school graduate. They need skills that will translate directly into a job or a college degree. When they see a concrete connection between school and a brighter future, they are more motivated to stick with it.

The fact is many students still leave high school without a diploma. Yet, a diploma is only the beginning of what students need to secure a better future. 

That's why, as the principal of a transfer high school, I am a strong believer in job training and college experience for my kids and for all students attending 50-plus transfer schools in the city.

At West Brooklyn we have built a successful Learning to Work (LTW) program that provides opportunities for our students to gain work experience before they graduate. We have a partnership with about 80 employers who host West Brooklyn students throughout the year. Students learn on-the-job skills that allow them to be more marketable and savvy employees. Students experience the demands of being a full-time student and an employee under the tutelage of a knowledgeable internship coordinator. Some of our students have to juggle these expectations along with being a parent or caregiver—the competing demands can be very difficult to balance.

Over the years we have seen several students graduate and get hired at their internship sites, even as they move on to college. One of our most recent graduates - who just completed his graduation requirements last month -- interned at Life Quality BMW in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He is working with our internship coordinator to secure a full-time position there. Recognizing the student’s interest in the automotive industry, coordinator Mark McCaskill recently took the student to Bronx Community College to learn about their Automotive Technology program and consider enrolling.

This is an excellent example of how college and career work hand in hand to help our students.

As for early college experience, this is a model we’ve seen in other parts of the school system. Often the Early College Model is seen as something for younger high school students already on the college track but want to earn college credits faster. But, looking at our population of students who are at risk for not graduating and securing gainful employment, it is clear to me that limiting these opportunities to students in traditional high schools is a loss for us all.

Our view should shift and recognize how powerful this model would be for students who are eager for the challenge. After all, students in transfer schools are motivated too; they know the risks of not achieving all too well.

Young people who leave school without a high school diploma are more likely than their peers who remain in school to live in poverty, be in poor health, have a child out of wedlock, have limited employment opportunities, and become involved in crime. For those who have chosen to stick with school, we need to offer them a variety of rewards to stay involved. College credit and gainful employment are tremendous motivators.

And we know they can do it. We have seen countless transfer high school graduates exceed expectations, ours and theirs. With an additional layer of support through community college and business partners, the results could be astounding.