Wake County turned to some of the people who know best what it’s like in high school – its own students – for advice Friday on how to help students succeed and graduate ready for college.
The panel of 10 high school juniors and seniors spoke about the need for more support from schools, parents and the community to keep students on track. The students were part of the GradNation Community Summit, a daylong series of discussions focused on boosting the graduation rate and better preparing students for access to college.
Mikala Kilpatrick, a junior at Southeast Raleigh High School, talked about the support she got from her parents. Unfortunately, she said, some other parents send the wrong message that it’s OK to skip class.
“I can’t really tell you how to raise your child, but I think it’s a problem that some parents don’t care whether their students are in class or not,” Kilpatrick said. “I just really think that it should be stressed more, making sure you’re in class, making sure you’re learning, making sure you’re doing your homework.”
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Wake County is among 100 communities across the nation picked to hold a summit by America’s Promise Alliance, a nonprofit group whose GradNation campaign calls for raising the nation’s graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020.
The Wake County school system has an even more ambitious goal as part of its strategic plan to raise the graduation rate to 95 percent by 2020. Wake’s graduation rate is currently at an all-time high of 86.1 percent.
To help reach the 95-percent goal, 250 school, community and business leaders met Friday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Raleigh. Sessions were focused on topics such as college access, community programs, college admissions and career readiness.
Although adults did most of the talking Friday, the students added their own advice during a lunchtime panel discussion.
Be great leaders in your community. Don’t be that person that just sits there and goes to school and that’s it.
Malashya Jones, senior at Millbrook High School
A theme echoed by multiple students is the need for more guidance counselors. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of no more than 250 students for every counselor. Wake’s ratio is one counselor for every 391 high school students.
Hope Harrington, a junior at Garner High School, said the lack of counselors makes it hard for students to get the information they need.
“It’s really hard when you have 3,000 students in one school and only a slight few counselors,” Harrington said. “They have a huge workload, and I feel like there could be more counselors in the school system to divide up between students.”
Anna Populorum, a junior at the Vernon Malone College and Career Academy in Raleigh, said she’s on her path to become a trauma surgeon for soldiers because she goes to a small school where it’s easier for the counselors to tell her what she needs to do.
“What we need is communication,” Populorum said. “We need to be told how to get there and we need help getting there, and that’s what’s lacking.”
Malashya Jones, a senior at Millbrook High School in Raleigh, publicly thanked her counselor, Vanessa Barnes, for helping her to the point where she was accepted into St. Augustine’s University. Jones, who juggles a leadership role in the school’s Army Junior ROTC program and a part-time job, gave advice for students.
“Be great leaders in your community,” Jones said. “Don’t be that person that just sits there and goes to school and that’s it.”
America’s Promise Alliance will help the summit’s organizers – the Wake County school system, YouthThrive and the Raleigh College and Community Collaborative – develop an action plan within 60 days using suggestions that came from Friday’s sessions.
“We could do a million things,” Brenda Elliott, Wake’s assistant superintendent for student support services, said in an interview. “But what are the three or four really high impact strategies that we could implement that would really help to improve college and career readiness resources for our community?”