My school, the High School of Language and Innovation, is a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners that was founded in 2011. We had our first graduating class in 2015. This week, we graduated our fourth class, the class of 2018.
As I listened to the students’ speeches at graduation, I was struck by how many of the students had experienced our intended vision for the school: “We learned to work together as a team in order to learn English,” “We got to make friends with people from diverse cultures.”
However, even as I enjoyed the graduation, something was on my mind: 90% of our girls graduated. 51% of our boys graduated.*
When I drilled down even further, less than 40% of our Latino boys graduated. Latinos make up a little over 50% of our school’s population, while the other 50% consists of Yemeni, Bangladeshi, African, Albanian, and East Asian students.
The day after graduation, I went to another graduation: the Young Adult Borough Center (YABC), an evening school for older students who don’t graduate in four years in their original high school. Six of my former students had been attending the YABC over the past year, all Latino, four of them boys.
All six of the students graduated this June with particularly strong scores in English, the exam my own school had struggled to get them to pass.
I wondered: What was the difference at the YABC?
The assistant principal who leads the YABC is a Latino man. He is a strong, kind, dynamic man, a constant presence, greeting the students as they walk in, patrolling the hallways, talking with students and teachers. He gave a speech: “You may not know this, but I got my GED (General Equivalency Diploma) when I was 27 years old. When I started college after that, I needed bilingual classes because I didn’t speak English yet.”
The YABC assistant principal then called on all of my students to stand up, as well as their YABC English as a New Language teacher. He described the students’ and their teacher’s perseverance.
The YABC assistant principal publicly thanked my school for our partnership. What I recalled, though, was feeling discouraged when these six students did not graduate on time at my own school. I was struck by the strong success rate this man had achieved with our Latino boys.
I’m sure there are many factors that contributed to the success of the six students this past June. It may be that the students matured in a new school with older students. The evening school schedule also worked for them, as they could hold down jobs during the day and go to school at night— something which had been a conflict for them at my school. Time could also have been a factor: the students had another year to get more proficient in English.
However, I also wondered if the YABC assistant principal and the English teacher had communicated an unshakable, unwavering belief in the students which somehow, my school had not communicated to them. Having done an excellent training on implicit bias by Dr. Bryant T. Marks, I also wondered about my own biases and the biases of my staff towards Latino boys. I wondered about the impact of having a Latino male role model heading a program.
Part of me would like this blog entry to have a different report: “This blog is about how my school figured out how to close the achievement gap and got 100% of our Latino boys to graduate on time.”
But we’re not there. Yet. This blog is about my school’s journey, and the intention is honesty.
Sometimes after a June graduation, I feel exhausted and ready for a break. This year, I don’t want to stop. I don’t feel discouraged. I feel ownership of our statistics, not resistance. I’m inspired and motivated by the YABC graduation and by the persistence of the young men and women who graduated. I’m inspired by how my own school can learn from the YABC, graduate our Latino boys earlier, and let the world experience their greatness.
*Update: by August 2018, we increased the graduation rate of boys to 60%.
Photo credit: Julie Nariman