When I’m president, we’ll fight to make sure we’re once again first in the world when it comes to high school graduation rates.
-Barack Obama (Dayton, Ohio, September 9, 2008)
I admit I do things that get me in trouble at school. I like to talk in class, argue with the teacher and make people laugh. But I feel like the teachers and principals are always waiting for me to do something stupid so they can jump on my case. It’s like we’re in a war. The only question is who’s going to strike first.
- Desmin, New York, New York, April 2009
Many Americans hear from or about President Barack Obama near daily. But voices like Desmin’s - an 8th grader struggling to finish middle school in New York City - are less heard, though education reform remains a high priority of this president (and the last).
A recent report commissioned by the America’s Promise Alliance (PDF) puts the national high school graduation rate at 71%. That number drops sharply in large urban districts like New York, where in 2008 just 60% of students earned a diploma within four years — a new high for the city.
Youth Communication attacks the problem from an unusual angle. Founded almost 30 years ago in New York, YC is dedicated to helping teenagers develop reading and writing skills by publishing magazines written by and for teens. A recent issue titled “Getting to Graduation” included Desmin’s story. An excerpt:
Now I am on the brink of being kicked out of school because of my behavior. I think my teachers feel like the school would have no problems if they just got rid of me, and that upsets me. I feel disgusted because they label me the bad seed. I don’t see myself as that.
I just want to pass 8th grade and move on to high school. I don’t really want to draw negative attention to myself for acting up. I’d rather draw positive attention to myself for being on the honor roll.
I want to go to college and get my master’s degree. I want to become an architect or maybe an entrepreneur so I can be my own boss. With this brain, I feel that I have the skills to start my own business—like a champagne label or maybe a record label. But first I have to graduate from high school.
This weekend, take the time to read Desmin’s story and others on the Youth Communication website. Often our discussions of education pivot around adult stories, neglecting the voices of those sitting in the classroom - or leaving it too early.