Two girls, different futures


As a 12th grader, Guadalupe Acevedo started thinking about college, but learned she qualifies only for community college. Photo: Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times

Lizbeth Ledesma and Guadalupe Acevedo grew up in low-income, immigrant families in Los Angeles, but their college futures are very different, write Joy Resmovits and Sonali Kohli in the Los Angeles Times.

A straight-A student in public school, Lizbeth earned a scholarship to Chadwick, a private school, in ninth grade. She pushed herself to meet higher academic standards. By 10th grade, expert counselors were helping her plan for college. A counselor helped her get a full scholarship to Babson College, near Boston, her first-choice school.

Lizbeth Ledesma meets with her colleague counselor, Beth Akers, at her private school.

Lizbeth Ledesma discusses college plans with counselor Alicia Valencia at Chadwick, a private school.

At Roosevelt High, a Los Angeles Unified campus in a low-income neighborhood, Guadalupe didn’t think seriously about college till her senior year. Even then, “I was so lost. I didn’t know how college worked.”

California students must complete a college-prep sequence of courses with C’s or better — and an overall B average — to qualify for a state university. Guadalupe realized too late she qualified only for community college.

She’ll start at East Los Angeles College and “hopes to transfer to USC, where she wants to take dance and Chicano studies and be a cheerleader,” reports the Times. (And ride a purple unicorn.)

Someone who earned mediocre (or worse) grades in low-level classes at a not-very-demanding high school is almost certain to be placed in remedial classes in community college. Most remedial students drop out in their first year, sometimes in their first few weeks.

Guadalupe could work hard and beat the odds. But her USC dreams show she’s still not getting useful advice.

If a kid is gay, what can a teacher say?

Hawaii may ban teachers, counselors and psychologists from trying to change a child’s sexual orientation, reports the Washington Times.

California, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia have banned therapists from using “conversion therapy” to persuade teens to reject their homosexuality. “A bill introduced in Congress would ban conversion therapy nationwide,” reports The Atlantic. “In April, President Obama called for an end to these therapies for gay youth.”

In the '90s, My So-Called Life included Rickie Vasquez, a gay teen who liked to use the girls' restroom to put on make-up.

In 1994, My So-Called Life introduced Rickie Vasquez, a gay teen who liked to use the girls’ restroom to put on make-up.

“Really, it’s a subtle form of child abuse,” said Camaron Miyamoto, the director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Student Services at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Republican Rep. Bob McDermott said parents have a right to choose treatment for children who are questioning their sexuality, but called for the state Department of Education to bar teachers from counseling minors about sexual orientation.

The state can regulate what topics of discussion are appropriate for public school teachers on the job, but the proposed law goes much farther to infringe free-speech rights, writes Scott Shackford on Reason‘s Hit & Run. It appears to regulate private school teachers and “a teacher engaged in private matters on his or her own time.”

Censoring speech can backfire, he warns. Only two years ago, conservative state legislators tried to pass laws that forbid teachers and educators from discussing homosexuality with students for fear teachers would tell kids it’s OK to be gay.

Hip hop therapy

“Use your words” is old playground advice. In the latest wrinkle, urban schools are using “hip-hop therapy” — getting kids to write and rap about their feelings — as a counseling tool, reports the New York Times.

Ellis McBeth, a ninth-grade charter student in the Bronx, used to pick fights when he was upset. When his 12-year-old cousin died, he wrote a hip-hop song about his grief with his counselor’s help and recorded it with his older sister singing the chorus: “I want to say R.I.P. to you because I don’t believe it’s true, but I’ll still remember you.”

Tomas Alvarez III, a social worker in Oakland, Calif., said he started one of the first programs, called Beats Rhymes and Life, at Berkeley High School in 2004 to address the mental health needs of young black and Latino men, who tended to have higher rates of suspension and expulsion than other students.

“The same young men who refused to meet with me for traditional talk therapy — every single one of them — were writing rhymes at home on their own,” Mr. Alvarez said. “They were already using hip-hop to process their emotions.”

He helped found a nonprofit organization that has run programs at more than two dozen sites in California and New York. “Hip-hop gives young people a platform to talk about their hopes and dreams as well as their grief and loss,” said Alvarez.

Here’s an Atlantic story about using dance to teach empathy and other social-emotional skills.

Dropouts say: Don’t quit on me

GradNation’s Don’t Quit on Me focuses on the “power of relationships” to keep troubled students in school or persuade them to return, writes John Gomperts in Education Post.

. . . young people told us they need respect, not judgment. They need resources — bus passes, a ride to school, a meal, a job, a chance.

A relationship with a non-family adult can serve as an “anchor,” he writes, but even better is “a web of support.”

Schools sued for not being ‘trauma sensitive’

Beaten and sexually abused by his addict mother’s boyfriends, Peter P. did poorly in school. When he was kicked out of a foster home, the 11th grader slept on the roof of his high school till he was discovered — and suspended.

Kimberly Cervantes, 18, is suing Compton Unified for failing to provide "trauma-sensitive services."

Kimberly Cervantes, 18, is suing Compton Unified for failing to provide “trauma-sensitive services.”

Peter P., four other students and three teachers have filed a lawsuit against Compton Unified, which serves a low-income, high-crime city near Los Angeles. Students who’ve experienced violence, abuse, homelessness, foster care and other “adverse childhood experiences” need “trauma-sensitive services” in school, the suit argues. It calls for “complex trauma” to be considered a learning disability.

“The lawsuit is seeking training for staff to recognize trauma, mental health support for students to cope with their condition and a shift from punitive disciplinary practices to those based on reconciliation and healing,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Traumatized students are kicked out of school rather than helped, according to the suit.

Another student at age 8 first witnessed someone being shot and killed and has seen more than 20 other shootings since then — one of them resulting in the death of a close friend, according to the lawsuit.

Another student, Kimberly Cervantes, 18, a senior at Cesar Chavez Continuation School, said she stopped attending school for weeks at a time after multiple traumas, including being told by teachers at a different school that her bisexuality was “wrong.”

Los Angeles Unified provides counseling for traumatized students. One Guatemalan boy had witnessed rebel soldiers killing villagers, then saw gang violence in Los Angeles, said Marleen Wong, a USC social work professor who designed the program.

. . . Martin learned about trauma, how to calm himself and how to apply the relaxation techniques in his daily life, she said. Techniques included walking to school with others so as not to be alone and seeking teachers to support him.

. . . “He was able to go back to school, calmed down, had fewer fights and better attendance.”

There’s no question that some students have been through hell — and that it may affect their ability to behave and learn. But do we want to consider them disabled?

Family stress is their students’ greatest barrier to school success, say state Teachers of the Year in a new survey. Next came poverty, and learning and psychological problems.

The upwardly mobile barista


Alicea Thomas is a full-time shift supervisor at Starbucks — and a full-time online student at Arizona State.

Going to college is easy. Nearly all U.S. high school graduates enroll somewhere. Completing college is hard, especially for first-generation and lower-income students.

“Thirty-five million Americans now have some college experience but no degree, writes Amanda Ripley in The Upwardly Mobile Barista. Starbucks has teamed with Arizona State to help employees finish their degrees online.

As long as they worked 20 hours or more per week, any of the company’s 135,000 employees in the United States would be eligible for the program. Those who’d already racked up at least two years’ worth of credits would be fully reimbursed for the rest of their education. Those with fewer or no credits would receive a 22 percent tuition discount from Arizona State until they reached the full-reimbursement level.

As it turned out, the tuition aid wasn’t the most critical part of the plan, writes Ripley. Starbucks enrollees were promised “an enrollment counselor, a financial-aid adviser, an academic adviser, and a ‘success coach’ — a veritable pit crew of helpers.” A special orientation course teaches time management.

Advising has been critical. Baristas need lots of help to pry transcripts out of former colleges, track down missing paperwork and overcome their fears, writes Ripley.

Alicea Thomas, 23, works 35 hours a week as a shift supervisor, earning $11.46 an hour. When her computer was stolen, she dropped out of orientation. How do you take online courses without a computer?

But then she did something crucial. She reached out to her academic adviser at Arizona State, who got her signed up for another orientation class happening later that month and encouraged her to find a way to get online.

That’s when Thomas began taking her classes on her iPhone. She was amazed at how much she could do on the device. After work, she’d take it to Applebee’s, get a margarita, and start doing her reading and tapping out her discussion posts. Problems arose only when she needed a webcam to take the remotely proctored quizzes. In those cases, she usually borrowed a computer from a relative.

In her first semester, Thomas earned two A’s. She’s majoring in communications with hopes of working in public relations.

Only a small percentage of Starbucks workers have applied to ASU so far, but 85 percent of those who did were accepted. So far, persistence and pass rates are similar to other ASU online students.

Job retraining is the focus of today’s Upskill Summit at the White House.

‘Trauma-sensitive’ approach cuts suspensions

“Trauma-sensitive” schools are suspending less and graduating more, writes Hechinger’s Meredith Kolodner in the Washington Monthly.

When a sophomore screamed and swore at his English teacher at New Haven’s Metropolitan Business Academy,  Principal Judith Puglisi asked,“What do you need?”

After she quietly repeated her question close to a dozen times, he turned to her and said, “I need to come to your office.” There, Puglisi and the assistant principal listened to him shout until he began to cry, telling them that his stepfather had beaten him since he was 7. “I am sick of people calling me a loser,” he said.

The student met with a drama therapist trained in trauma at Metropolitan the next day, then apologized to the teacher and returned to class.

Metropolitan and a dozen other schools in Connecticut work with Animated Learning by Integrating and Validating Experience (ALIVE), which provides drama therapists to “identify trauma, prevent problems from escalating and respond effectively when students do act out,” writes Kolodner.

Metropolitan’s team now includes a school social worker, six social work interns and three part-time drama therapists from ALIVE.

Over the past three years, the school’s suspension rate has dropped by two-thirds to 3 percent. Fights are way down.  The graduation rate rose to 90 percent in 2014 and 70 percent of graduates enroll in college.

All ninth-graders take a course that deals with issues such as homelessness, gun violence and drug addiction.

One freshman class on a snowy March afternoon began with a happy celebration of a student’s birthday, but then took a darker turn. The group of 20 usually boisterous freshmen sat silently for 15 minutes as the birthday girl, encouraged by her teacher, related why she almost didn’t come to school that morning. “My mom told me she never wanted me,” the girl said, looking at the floor, determined not to cry. “She said what she always says. That I’m kinda worthless. A waste of space.”

Just cutting suspensions and expulsions isn’t enough, says Susan F. Colege, who directs the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative at Massachusetts Advocates for Children. Schools must “create a place where students feel safe enough to learn.”

High schools help alums get through college

Yes Prep students at Rhodes College, in Memphis.
YES Prep graduates at Rhodes College in Memphis support each other.

Only 10 percent of low-income, first-generation college students will earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, writes Erin Einhorn on the Hechinger Report. Some college-prep charters are providing college counseling to their graduates to improve those odds.

These alumni advisors send reminders about scholarship deadlines, connect students with campus resources such as writing centers and help them understand quirks that may not be obvious to kids whose parents never went to college, including the importance of withdrawing from a class before the deadline to avoid a failing grade and a tuition bill.

“More and more high schools are feeling a responsibility beyond high school graduation,” said Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network. They can’t simply hand off their graduates to college and move on, the way runners in a relay race pass the baton, Cook said. “We’ve had some wake-up calls … that make us scratch our heads and think, hmm, maybe the baton pass wasn’t really working.”

YES Prep, a chain of Houston-based charters, sends its low-income, minority graduates to college, but realized that most never earned degrees. Now the chain has hired three full-time counselors to support graduates.

YES Prep also sends groups of alumni to college together to support each other. And the chain uses their feedback about how well-prepared they were to tweak its curriculum for juniors and seniors. Early returns have been promising, with the charter network now reporting that 72 percent of its alumni are still in college or have graduated.

Another large charter chain, KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, hires dozens of staffers around the country for its KIPP Through College campaign. They work with kids starting in the eighth grade and send groups of students to support each other at 60 colleges and universities — programs KIPP credits with boosting its six-year bachelor’s degree rate from 28 percent a few years ago to 45 percent today.

“To and through” is the motto of Downtown College Prep, the charter school I wrote about in Our School. Not only does the high school offer counseling to help graduates succeed in college, it’s added help in finding jobs once they earn their degrees.

 

‘Free’ college won’t raise graduation rates

College is too late, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni in response to President Obama’s call for free community college in the State of the Union speech. Subsidizing tuition won’t help if students aren’t ready to do college-level work.

It’s easy to get students to enroll in community college, writes his colleague, David Brooks. Helping students graduate is hard.

Spending $60 billion over 10 years to make community college free won’t change sky-high dropout rates, Brooks writes.

. . . community college is already free for most poor and working-class students who qualify for Pell grants and other aid. In 2012, 38 percent of community-college students had their tuition covered entirely by grant aid and an additional 33 percent had fees of less than $1,000.

The Obama plan would largely be a subsidy for the middle- and upper-middle-class students who are now paying tuition and who could afford to pay it in the years ahead.

To increase graduation rates, spend some of that $60 billion to subsidize books, transportation, child care and housing, Brooks argues. That way students could work fewer hours and spend more time on their studies.

Community colleges also need funding for guidance counselors to help first-generation students develop a study plan and choose courses that get them quickly to their vocational or academic goal.

And they need to fix remediation, writes Brooks.

Actually, community colleges are trying all sort of remedial ed reforms, but it all goes back to Bruni’s point. If K-12 doesn’t work, then college won’t work.

First to college — but not to a degree

More low-income students are enrolling in college, but few go on to earn a degree, reports Liz Riggs in The Atlantic. Just 11 percent of low-income students who are the first in their family to attend college will earn a bachelor’s degree in six years.

Many are poorly prepared for college work, struggling with financial burdens and working long hours, writes Riggs.

When Nijay Williams entered college last fall as a first-generation student and Jamaican immigrant, he was—despite being admitted to the school—academically unprepared for the rigors of higher education. Like many first-generation students, he enrolled in a medium-sized state university many of his high school peers were also attending, received a Pell grant, and took out some small federal loans to cover other costs. Given the high price of room and board and the proximity of the school to his family, he opted to live at home and worked between 30 and 40 hours a week while taking a full class schedule.

What Williams didn’t realize about his school—Tennessee State University—was its frighteningly low graduation rate: a mere 29 percent for its first-generation students. At the end of his first year, Williams lost his Pell Grant of over $5,000 after narrowly missing the 2.0 GPA cut-off, making it impossible for him to continue paying for school.

Tennessee State’s overall graduation rate is only 39 percent. By comparison, the state’s flagship university, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, graduates 71 percent of students and 54 percent of its first-generation students.

A minority of four-year schools provide adequate support to first-generation students, says Matt Rubinoff, who directs a new nonprofit called I’m First.

Most disadvantaged students choose unselective state universities, community colleges or online programs with low graduation rates and little funding for support services.

If President Obama’s proposal for “free” community college tuition passes — which it won’t — then first-generation, low-income students who could get into a selective university may decide to start at community college instead. (Actually, few low-income students pay any community college tuition, but they might get more Pell dollars to cover their living expenses.) That would be a high-risk decision.