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February 2014 Vol. 21 No. 4 Focus on Keeping Students Engaged

Motivated to learn

Photo: Harvey Finkle

South Philadelphia High students Isaiah Jackson-Boose (left) and Naim Dykes (right) discuss a project with engineering teacher John Evans. The school has expanded its career and technical education programs this year. Some see such courses as an effective way to engage students in academic work.

Reducing the city’s high dropout rate has been a concerted focus of Philadelphia’s education community for nearly a decade – and the topic of an annual edition of the Notebook since 2005.

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More in this edition

Students tell of struggles on way to a diploma

By by Bill Hangley

As three young men who once dropped out share their stories, Nasir Mack hears what could lie in store for his friends – or himself.

One former student left school after butting heads with the deans. Another needed academic help but didn’t get it. A third just didn’t show up. 

Despite individual obstacles, all three graduated from Congreso’s GED program in North Philadelphia – but not before spending months out of school. Their stories bear the hallmarks of teenage life: confusion, frustration, big decisions, painful realizations – and in their cases, learning, success and growth. They came to the Philadelphia Youth Network to talk about their journeys and help the Notebook explore the kinds of experiences that lie behind students’ familiar complaints.

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Educators share ideas for making school more welcoming

By by Dale Mezzacappa

High school needs to be fun and welcoming, a place where students feel valued by caring adults and engaged by interesting coursework that they can see will prepare them for a future.

But, too often, high schools – especially large, neighborhood institutions – can be places where students get lost, ignored, and bored.

“I really think that a lot of times schools have become more like penal colonies,” said Linda Carroll, principal of 3,000-student Northeast High School. “So I think we have to do some work around that – making schools inviting for kids.”

For this edition on student engagement, the Notebook convened a group of six educators from three of the city’s neighborhood high schools that have had relative success in maintaining attendance and graduation rates. They had a 90-minute dialogue on what they do to keep students in school.

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Technical education students tackle real-life problems

By by Dan Hardy

In Steve Grosso’s spacious, well-equipped computer lab at South Philadelphia High School, students in a Computer Repair and Networking class are learning how to diagnose and repair every aspect of a desktop PC’s hardware and operating systems. 

A few floors below, their classmates in John Evans’ engineering class are using computer-assisted design programs and trigonometry calculations to come up with a plan for reconfiguring the stormwater drainage system at Southern, a real-life application of their academic work. A 3D printer is the latest industrial tool at their disposal, to help them raise their design skills to a new level.

Southern’s career and technical education (CTE) programs have expanded this year, and many participating students are enthusiastic about their future job prospects and engaged in their course work. 

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