give kids the
and they will
What kids need
HARLEE LIT TLE
after school, to help with homework, offer
social services or just hang out.
The task ahead
Despite these and other efforts, dropout
rates remain at epidemic levels, even as schools
are the subject of intense reform efforts—state
and federal—through legislation such as No
Child Left Behind, curriculum overhauls and
private and public efforts to inject innovation
into school management.
These are desperately needed steps that
address what’s taught to kids and how schools
are run, says Milliken. What’s missing is what
he calls the “third side of the triangle”: the
community component that meets kids’ nonacademic needs.
That’s where the CIS model comes in, but
first we all have to realize that the problem is
a national one, and it’s critical. “We can put
our voice out there and talk about what we do
[through CIS], but we have to wake up the
country to the fact that we need to start moving the needle on the dropout rate,” says
Milliken, who served as CIS national president for 27 years and currently is vice chairman of the organization’s board. “It’s going to
take more than CIS.”
In the short term, he supports pursuing
two immediate steps at the state and national
levels. One is getting funding for a coordinator—a student advocate, of sorts—inside each
high school to make sure students’ needs are
being met. The coordinator matches up students with available social agencies, from dental programs to gang-intervention services to
volunteer networks. Georgia is using such a
program, with great results, Milliken says.
The second step is working with Congress
to change the way it finances programs to deal
holistically with kids. “Money is now given
away in a fragmented way,” says Milliken. “The
metaphor would be having 26 different keyboards in 26 different rooms with 26 different
letters to create a letter. So you have all these
agencies out there working and trying to help,
but we say you have to integrate them. We’re
hoping that states and Congress adopt legislation that says we’re going to reward you to
coordinate and integrate your resources
around the schools.”
The impetus must come from the community to create a new safety net, he notes.
That includes the business community. The
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that
more than half of adult dropouts are currently not employed.
“In many ways, this is a business deal,”
Milliken maintains. “If we fail, you fail,
because where is your workforce going to
come from? The bottom line for the business
community is, where are we going to get our
workforce if we’re losing a third of our kids?
Our banks, utilities, small stores, little businesses are in communities where we need
employees. And if we’re losing a third of our
kids, where are they going to come from?”
The last dropout
Will today’s first-graders be the last
class to have a dropout? Probably not,
acknowledges Milliken. “But we can say
this,” he insists. “Young people will stop
dropping out when they receive the community support and resources they need
to learn, stay in school and graduate prepared for life.”
At the very least, the issue is gaining
public awareness, and CIS has garnered support from a wide variety of political and
financial corners. It has become the nation’s
fifth-largest youth-serving organization. In
2006, major corporations, including Capital
One, MetLife, Time Inc. and Costco, donated
$9.2 million to CIS. The organization recently
named football star Shaun Alexander of the
Seattle Seahawks as its national spokesman.
Milliken hopes his book, which focuses
on nine principles to keep kids in school,
reaches a wide audience of people who can
help. He declares, “I feel that we have a moral
obligation to get this message out in places
where CIS is never going to end up to show
them a path on how they can do this.”
DOZENS OF PROGRAMS are available
to help kids succeed, from school programs to social services. But, overall,
kids have five basic needs that must be
met before they can learn and grow,
according to CIS. Here’s a look.
• A one-on-one relationship with a
caring adult. This relationship can
be with a parent, relative, coach,
church representative or mentor. It
all starts with relationships.
• A safe place to learn and grow. If
kids are homeless, they can’t learn.
Likewise, school must be a safe
place. The key is to bring enough
responsible adults into school to
instill a sense of security. Programs
that make schools a true community
center, with before- and after-school
programs, are successful.
• A healthy start and a healthy
future. Kids need to be drug and
alcohol free to succeed in school.
Other obstacles are less dramatic,
such as poor eyesight, asthma, lack
of proper nutrition and dental problems. Often, communities have
resources that can help out. They
have to be made available to kids.
• A marketable skill to be used upon
graduation. Goals and a path to a
career are critical to success in the
classroom, because they give kids a
reason to learn reading, writing and
math. Getting kids to see that academics offer a way out of poverty is
a huge motivating factor.
• A chance to give back to peers and
the community. Giving kids a chance
to give back through volunteering or
mentoring is key to helping them
find their own identity and self-worth. It’s a huge boost for a youth
to realize that he or she has a valuable gift to offer somebody else.—TT
The Last Dropout: Stop
the Epidemic!, by Bill
Milliken, isavailable in all
online at costco.com. To
contact CIS, go towww.cis
net.org. Costco has supported CIS since 1993.