Moving the tassel from the right to the left is more than just a symbolic gesture. For students unable to perform this acclaimed tradition, it can mean making an average of $707,400 less in their lifetime and are 27 percent higher likelihood of living in poverty.
The Lincoln Board of Education has set the goal of achieving a 90 percent on-time graduation rate by 2019. If that sounds lofty, it is. The LPS graduation rate in 2016 was 86.6 percent, meaning a 3.4 percentage point increase will be necessary over the next three years.
Meanwhile, national graduation rates have hit record highs in recent years and remain on track to achieve a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020 according to the 2015 Building a Grad Nation report. In order to keep ahead of the pace, LPS depends on community-based private organizations.
Historically, focusing resources on the early years of students’ education has been the norm. And while this remains an important strategy to put students on a successful path, problems can arise at any point in a student’s educational experience, including in the middle and high school years, that can alter this path. As Bill Michener, Executive Director of Lighthouse, explains, “It is impossible to catch all the needs of young people in early years for them to be successful. There are issues that happen as they continue through childhood that changes their path. So giving support to the older kids becomes even more crucial due to the mobility they now have.”
Student success is reliant on a multitude of factors both inside and outside the school environment, and agencies are vital in lending support in both these areas. Nola Derby-Bennett, executive director of the HUB, says operating inside the school is effective because it allows the schools to do what they do best — educating students. “We have the ability to address issues beyond what the school has the capacity and duty to become involved in,” says Derby-Bennett. “Our staff take a deeper dive with students and families to help identify systemic and family challenges and to find supports to put the students back on track for success.”
Of course, students’ performance in school is also affected by their time out of the classroom, where students spend upwards of 80 percent of their time. When a child faces challenging situations at home, it can become difficult to focus on an education. This is apparent in students receiving free or reduced lunch, a proxy for poverty, who have a graduation rate 6 percentage points lower than the district average.
Michener argues this is where young people need the most support, as it is the least structured part of their lives. “Community agencies can work with a student and help teach the tools necessary for any circumstance, while still helping them go through to graduation. When you eliminate barriers, they can focus on school.”
This is where United Way comes in. Students rely on agencies for the resources to succeed, and in turn, those agencies rely on United Way. “United Way’s support has been imperative in being able to offer this support within the school,” says Derby-Bennett.
“United Way really helped solidify our program,” adds Michener. “It gave stability in funding and helped the community understand what services that we provided. It has created a system to not only raise funds for programs, but to create a family environment in this community so that the community itself can respond with love and compassion. This is an amazing community with caring people, and United Way has helped foster that.”