In 2005, only seven African-American females graduated from Sto-Rox High School, even though African-Americans make up approximately 40 percent of the student population. To combat this tragedy, Marlene Banks, community and parent liaison for the Sto-Rox School District, launched the Reaching My Potential program to help Black female students at risk of dropping out.

DROPOUT PREVENTION—Marlene Banks, center, with two girls from the Reaching My Potential program.

“They usually dropout between 10th and 11th grade because they need jobs. In 9th grade there were 32 females but in 12th grade seven graduated,” said Banks, Reaching My Potential director. “The question is what happens from 9th grade to 12th grade that these girls aren’t graduating. There were a number of things that kept them from staying in school.”

The Reaching My Potential program works with girls who have problems with behavior, attendance, and academics. Banks said she finds the biggest problem for these girls is low self-esteem.

“I started talking to the girls about why they weren’t finishing school. It wasn’t so much about being pregnant; it was about being disengaged. There were a few who were pregnant, but they became very disengaged in the school district and they suffered from very low self esteem, and you know you have to see people who look like you,” Banks said. “We don’t have many African-American role models here. We don’t have any Black teachers. We just recently got a Black principal.”

Banks raises the girls’ self esteem through weekly meeting where the students hear from guest speakers who feed their minds, and enjoy a meal to feed their bodies, which are often malnourished. Past speakers have discussed topics ranging from STDs and teen pregnancy to careers and higher education.

“We’re working on developing positive study habits. We found that the girls did not have a lot of personal necessities; they didn’t have a lot of clothes and some of the other things the other students have so we worked on self-esteem. We brought in guest speakers to talk about drug abuse and relationship abuse,” Banks said. “When these girls first come in, they’re not very close with each other, but they grow very close almost like a sisterhood. They find comfort knowing each one of them is going through the same things.”

Banks said this year’s graduating class has the highest number of Black males and females in the past three years at 29 and 26 students respectively. She also said every female who has been in her program for two years or more has graduated high school.

There is not a dropout prevention program for African-American males at Sto-Rox. Banks said the district is looking into creating a program through a partnership with Manchester Bidwell Corporation.

In 2005, the year that spurred the program’s creation, Sto-Rox High School’s graduation rate was among the four lowest in the state at 60.5 percent. Since that time, school officials say both the school’s overall graduation rate and the rate of graduation for African-American females has risen, but requests for actual data were not granted.

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