In an effort to reduce dropout rates in the Pittsburgh Public School District, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl convened leaders from several city partnerships for an all-day summit. Along with Superintendent Mark Roosevelt and Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board President Mary Richter, the mayor signed “Pittsburgh’s Multiple Education Pathways Blueprint,” a document proposing several recommendations to ensure students graduate and prepare them for post-secondary education training or employment.
The blueprint signed at the Graduate Pittsburgh Summit Nov. 12 at the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh Downtown facility, was only the beginning of a series of activities to address the dropout rate. While Ravenstahl and other sponsors pledged to move forward with the plan, others spent the rest of the day in a series of breakout sessions and panel discussions.
In contrast to the blueprint, the panelists in a multi-sector discussion, focused on reforming the school system and the power of personal relationships in affecting change.
“I really want us to shift the paradigm from children being the problem. There’s nothing wrong with these young people,” said Derrick Lopes, assistant superintendent of secondary schools for PPS. “We have a system that believes one size fits all. That’s simply not true.”
Most of the panelists emphasized the impact social factors have on a students education. They said often times students fall behind because they don’t have adequate support systems in school or at home.
“Every time you have the opportunity to speak with a young person, you have the power to make an impact. That person who cares means just so much,” said Kimberly Booth, assistant administrator, Allegheny County Juvenile Court. “When you’re talking to young people, you need to be quick, clear and direct. You have to say to them, if you don’t graduate you’re not going to make it.”
Booth, who said relationships are also important for parents, encouraged those without children to act as support systems for parents. Based on her experience with the court system, she explained how irresponsible parenting can be damaging to students.
“We constantly ask young people to make adult decisions and I’m watching adults not always making adult decisions,” Booth said. “So I’m asking you to be a good role model.”
Other recommendations included increasing after- school programs, adding more vocational training, mandatory personal development for teachers, better tracking of dropouts and peer mentoring.
“Relationships are very important for our youth to be successful,” said Rev. Monica Hawkins, founder of Pathways to Success. “We lose a lot of kids in eighth grade so it’s very important we start there with shadowing and mentoring.”
The summit was one of more than 50 others held across the country through America’s Promise Alliance. Recommendations from the other summits will be collected and shared with each participating city.
“We’ve done a lot of work today, but this is just the beginning of the Graduate Pittsburgh process,” said Sabrina Saunders, youth policy manager, mayor’s office. “This is just one of the summits across the country and we want to make sure this information is available to other cities across the country. We need more collaboration.”