Hard work pays off for school, minority grads at NHS

Published 3:59 pm Friday, June 4, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Seven years ago, Niles Community Schools officials noticed a very concerning statistic about its graduating class of high school seniors: It included only six African American graduates.
This alarming fact made the district aware of the need to make the improvements necessary to keep its minority students in school through graduation.
Niles Community Schools Superintendent Doug Law, who was high school principal at the time, pointed out that the drop out rate was something that needed to be fixed for all of the school's students, not just minorities.
The district's efforts have obviously been paying off as the Class of 2004 had the largest number of African American graduates in recent history with 27 students receiving their diplomas.
After two years of single digit African American graduates in 1997 and 1998, Niles High School has had 20 or more African Americans complete high school in five out of the last six years, including four consecutive years with the Class of 2004.
One of the main changes made at the high school level was the adoption of a career focused curriculum in the mid 1990s.
This career based program, which includes career declaration, counseling, job shadowing, internships and work experience, is apparently a big part of why the graduation rate has gone up.
In 1996, Niles High School had a graduation rate of 58.1 percent with 60 percent of those graduates going on to college. In 2003, the school had a graduation rate of 86 percent with 77 percent of graduates going on to college.
Law credits much of this improvement to an increasing amount of hope for the future among students.
Law said some of the other factors that may have had an effect on the graduation rates of minorities specifically were improved communication with parents, an increased amount of minority teachers and creating a partnership with minority families to make them feel more welcome and more a part of the school community.
Niles High School teacher and president of the Niles branch of the NAACP Saundria Wilson was very pleased with the number of African American graduates in her first year as a teacher at the school.
Wilson said graduation is a big step for these students to achieve success throughout their entire lives.
By providing more options, Wilson agreed that the career focused curriculum may have been a factor in keeping more kids in school.
She was also quick to point out that high school graduation should not be any student's ultimate goal.