Stride addresses the issue of high school drop out rates in the New York City Public School system at the source, by keeping students in school, and encouraging participation in education beyond graduation. By utilizing an investment/reward approach, Stride requires that selected students participate in community service and internship opportunities throughout their high school years. Every year students participate in Stride, their scholarship incentive grows. After graduating from high school, participants will be awarded scholarships to the college of their achievement, having gained job and life skills along the way. This approach allows students to give back to their communities while investing in their own futures.
In order to combat an alarming percentage of teenage drop-outs, Stride selected Washington Irving High School, located in New York City’s Union Square, to be the first school to benefit from the program. The Washington Irving High School student population grew from 2,400 in 2002-2003 to 3,000 in 2003-2004 due to overflow from other public schools around New York City. Educators blame the overcrowding at Washington Irving for its inability to maintain high attendance or to contain the frequent outbursts of violence in its classrooms and halls. By January 2004, Washington Irving was placed on the list of the city’s most dangerous schools, falling into the category of Impact Schools. Washington Irving was removed from the list in January 2005, after a year of heightened security and extra police officers assigned to the school; however, low attendance and graduation rates remain a critical concern, with just half of the freshman class actually graduating four years later. In 2005 Washington Irving had 1,243 freshmen students enrolled and just 141 seniors. Of those seniors, just a little more than half went on to pursue a 4-year college education. On average, well over 1,000 students get lost in the shuffle between 9th and 12th grade. This is a significant drop in students and typical of a given year at the high school. With such numbers, it is evident that Washington Irving students need incentives to stay in school and to strive for graduation.
In the Fall 2008, Stride will enroll the first five high school freshmen students into the program. Stride leadership will work closely with Washington Irving faculty to determine which students are accepted into the program.
Over the course of the following years, Stride will continue to enroll freshmen students while, simultaneously, working with the upperclassmen already enrolled in the program. Stride’s involvement in the student’s high school career will include:
Encouraging students to maintain an acceptable GPA (to be determined by Washington Irving faculty and Stride leadership,) by staying informed and involved in the student’s day-to-day activities. Stride will also provide each student with a mentor. Stride’s mentors commit to a minimum of one hour per month with their assigned student. Mentors work on a volunteer basis. In the event that a mentor cannot fulfill his or her obligations, Stride will provide an alternate for the student.
Stride will also provide internship opportunities during the summer months. Starting in their transition from 10th to 11th grade, students would be able to apply for internships provided by Stride partners – the businesses and personnel contributing to the program.
Stride requires a minimum amount of community service on entering the 10th Grade. Stride students will develop a volunteer project of their own design, conduct the project throughout the school year, and then report on it, in writing, to the Stride leadership at the end of the year. This project could be continued each subsequent year, or the student can custom-develop their own program each school year until reaching the 12th grade. Regardless of what they choose to do, or how they do it, students must participate in some kind of civic engagement during their 10th and 11th grade years in order to maintain Stride enrollment.
Upon receiving acceptance to an accredited 2 or 4-year college or university, a Stride student will be eligible to receive the promised scholarship. The hope is that their Stride scholarship has underlined their motivation, and has been inspiration throughout their high school career. The amount awarded would be contingent upon Stride funding, on the total amount of funds needed by the student, and on each student’s success in navigating the program. The funds awarded would be given for each year that the student is matriculated at their chosen college or university. Should there be a need, Stride leadership would review specific cases where a student might transfer schools or need to attend part time. By focusing on five students per year, Stride will be able to maintain personal relationships with each of the students. The program’s small size will give the students the attention they need to stay focused and committed to graduating from high school, and to gain acceptance to college, thereby going on to become productive and educated members of their communities.
Stride relies on private donations for all funding. The private donations make it possible for Stride to build a fund that will support the day-to-day operations of the program, as well as provide the promised college scholarship to each of the students enrolled. Stride is operating under Chloe Kaplan, Founder and President and Sabina Breece, Chairperson. Chloe Kaplan and Sabina Breece dedicate 20 hours per week to growing and building the Stride community. This includes organizing the annual fundraisers, pursuing grant and funding opportunities, and marketing. Once the first class of students is accepted into the program in the Fall of 2008, Chloe Kaplan and Sabina Breece, will be directly involved in the students’ progress on a bi-weekly basis. Washington Irving faculty will be asked to notify Stride leadership of any academic issues that may arise with any of the students. Stride’s mentors will also be actively involved in each of the student’s growth throughout their high school career and encouraged to maintain a mentor relationship with the student after graduation.
School failure has many causes. However, the single, most common disadvantage of kids who fail is the lack of traditional support in their immediate communities – family, neighborhood, and school. Historically, poverty in America was overcome by motivated young people. These young people found their incentives in the interlocking networks of adults around them, who cared for them, gave them the encouragement and the help they needed. We still see this in some more cohesive social groups, but it is sadly absent from too many sectors of our society, notably the inner city schools that have become drop-out factories, and the neighborhoods around them that have become concrete jungles of social, economic, and spiritual neglect. The Stride idea is to demonstrate that this culture of despair can be reversed, by showing how communities and students can work together to achieve high school success. Starting extremely small – five students, in one New York City high school, growing to about 40 students over five years and only then branching out toward other high schools, the Stride goal is nonetheless extremely bold and large. If we want to, we can change the meaning of high school for inner-city kids.