This year’s Youth Leadership Conference was a lot of fun! 40 students from 7 Tampa area high schools met at Jefferson High School for three days of collaboration, brainstorming and creativity. The students are members of the Student Alliance for Public Schools. They are working on student led solutions to raising the graduation rates at their schools.
Day 1 was a busy day of introductions, team building exercises, and learning (and donuts!). The students identified reasons why a diploma is important to them. These included “I want to be the first in my family to graduate from high school” and “I want to be the first in my family to go to college and become a doctor.” Then they learned what a dropout looks like. For example, only 33% of kids who have been retained twice before 9th grade will ever graduate. It was and eye opening experience and inpired everyone to work hard to surpass those statistics.
On Day 2 the students heard from Deputy Superintendent Van Ayers. He told them how important their work was to the district and offered to join them throughout the school year as they worked on solutions. Then, the students dug their hands into mountains of information about their schools and their student population. They read school climate surveys and reviewed graduation rates broken down by subgroups of students. They looked at district data about the students that failed to graduation on time in 2014 to understand barriers to success. They learned that 9th grade is the most important year in determining graduation. It was a hard day but was very motivating to us all.
On Day 3, the students learned about advocacy and now understand that they must advocate for solutions because they can’t advocate for problems. They heard from Assistant Superintendent Tracye Brown about the importance of student voice to this process of raising graduation rates for all kids. Then, they got down to the serious work of coming up with an action plan.
Together, they brainstormed things they can do immediately to increase the success of the incoming freshmen. Then, they worked in school groups to come up with their action plans for the fall. The students were joined by administrators from their schools over a delicious lunch (the food got high marks all week long). They ended the day by presenting their action plans to the administrators and the rest of the schools. Everyone left full of energy and looking forward to seeing each other again in the fall at the Superintendent’s Youth Leadership Conference. We can’t wait! Follow the Student Alliance on their page here. A big thank you to Hillsborough County Public Schools and the United Way Suncoast for supporting this work.