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Kent-Meridian trying to encourage more grads
Kentridge High School sent 78 percent of its graduating class to college in 2012. Kentwood sent 77 percent, Kentlake 70 percent.
But Kent-Meridian High School sent only 56 percent of its seniors to college, according to the Washington State Education Research and Data Center.
So why did only 180 of the school’s 323 seniors in the 2012 class continue on to a postsecondary education? The school has averaged a postsecondary rate of 60 percent over the last eight years, according to state statistics.
The problem is complex and sprawling, much like Kent itself, and can only be answered one piece at a time.
Kent-Meridian Principal Wade Barringer put it simply that “we are a different school” from the Kent School District’s other high schools.“
The big thing is to recognize that we serve a different population, a different socioeconomic class,” Barringer explained. “We’re 44-percent transient. That, right there in itself, means that we don’t have the luxury of kids coming to K-M in ninth grade and stay here for four years.”
The problems also are exacerbated by serving an area with low socioeconomic standing. Of the neighborhoods Kent-Meridian serves, which include most of the valley and part of the East Hill, many households make below $40,000 a year on average, some even below $20,000, according to www.city-data.com.
Kent-Meridian has a difficult challenge as it tries to take the smattering of apartment complexes, impoverished families and immigrant communities and reaches out to them to encourage kids to pursue college.
The school has made some gains in encouraging students to pursue college, but environmental and social factors limit their effectiveness.
Patricia Moss, a counselor at Kent-Meridian, said that there are several reasons why students fail to register for a four- or two-year college program.
One of the most common reasons, Moss said, is cultural. Some students come from refugee backgrounds where education isn’t as valued. For them, college is not a serious pursuit.“
Their understanding of what their options are after high school are different than the understanding of another student,” Moss said.
Students who live in lower socioeconomic areas of Kent also work jobs to help support their families, while others might be caring for little brothers and sisters. Those students barely have time to attend school, Moss said.
Some students come from special education programs, Moss added, and might not be suited to academia but still have specific practical skills they can put to use. She said they vary in type but are often similar to computer programming or mechanical skills.
Moss described another group of students as those who are slipping into truancy issues, often because of a lack of a good household life or an unstable living situation. Moss said that students often come from homes that don’t value education or don’t believe in the importance of a college degree.
These homes, Moss said, don’t exactly dismiss secondary education but don’t have the resources or knowledge of the resources available to send their children to college.
There are immediate solutions that could help improve the issues of low continuation rates among high school graduates, Moss said. The first is for the Kent community to take action against issues of truancy in their businesses.
By refusing to serve these kids, Moss said, the businesses send a message that it’s not OK to be out of school.
Moss also suggested re-instituting the high school mentorship programs. Mentors who stay in touch with at-risk students can help keep the students accountable and help guide them through the process of applying for college, while simultaneously decreasing the pressure on guidance counselors in the schools.
The original mentor program, according to Moss, was to set up adults in the district with 10 or 12 students. The school mentors would keep in contact with students to make sure that not only are they staying on track at school, but also thinking about their lives after high school.
“It’s kind of the same type of thing that a counselor would do, but you have to have multiple people contacting these kids,” Moss said, “to try to get through to them and let them know that there’s multiple people who care about them and that are supporting them.”