Friday, 15 July 2016

Poverty In America: Its Effect On High School Pass rate In Syracuse

Wayne O'Connor with some of the students at Hillside Center
By Paul Shalala in Syracuse, New York

The city of Syracuse in northern New York state has one of the poorest communities in the whole of the United States of America.

According to latest statistics from the US Census Bureau and the Onondaga County, Syracuse grapples with poverty which is mainly concentrated in the south of the city where African-Americans and Hispanics live.

This poverty has had a lot of impact especially in the number of criminal activities and gang related violence in the area.

Just in the past three weeks, three people have been shot dead and several injured, forcing the county officials and the City’s Police Department to hold a press conference to assure residents of their safety.

Poverty has also not spared the education sector.

According to the US Census Bureau’s 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Profiles, Syracuse has a high school pass rate of 80.1% which is lower than the national pass rate currently standing at 86.3%.

The civil society has joined county and state education departments in fighting the drop in the pass rate.

According to Wayne O’Connor, the Executive Director of the privately run Hillside College and Career Center, poverty has had a great impact on the lower pass rate among high school students in the city.

“Each year we enrol 1,000 high school students who we mentor and teach in various subjects in order for them to pass the exams. These are pupils who suffer poverty and have behavioural attitudes. They are brought here by their parents or they may come by themselves,” said Mr O’Connor.

He adds that apart from helping the students pass the examinations, his non profit which has been giving the service to students for over nine years, also helps the students get jobs and make rights career choices.

Several volunteer teachers and mentors operate from the center and help the students, mainly from poor families, prepare for exams.

The Hillside College and Career Center has an annual budget of $350 million and it works with students and parents to ensure that the students adequately prepare for the exams.

“Among the students who pass through our center, 98% progress to colleges and universities. We also offer scholarships to deserving students who come from poverty stricken homes.”

Mr O’Connor told a group of Syracuse-based 2016 Mandela Washington fellows that pupils usually come to the center in the afternoon after their regular classes in their respective schools and get coached by the youth advocates.

He said at the center, the students are given food so that they can concentrate on their studies and have a free mind.

“Our calendar year starts in September and ends in June. We also offer sports so that the students are kept busy physically,” said Mr O’Connor.

As part of the institution’s plan to motivate the learners, twice a year it organises events where parents come to celebrate the success of their children who are crowned as School Ambassadors based on their achievements.

According to Hillside College and Career Center records, 75% of the students are African-Americans, 12% Hispanics and the remainder is Caucasians.

The center plans to increase the enrolment to 2,000 in the coming years to help increase the pass rate in the city.

Some of the center's former students have even been engaged as mentors for the current students.

Part of the students at the center are sponsored by the Central New York Community Foundation through scholarships.

The foundation, which currently has assets worth $172 million, spends huge sums of money in literacy programs to help reduce the low pass rate in Syracuse.

"Half of the students in Syracuse do not graduate to college and this maybe because of poverty. So as the foundation, we give grants to non profits for literacy, we also fund institutions like Hillside to ensure that our students graduate and grab future opportunities," said Central New York Community Foundation Director of Research and Community Initiatives Frank Ridzi.

Speaking when he addressed Syracuse-based 2016 Mandela Washington fellows visited his office, Mr Ridzi said 14.1% of the foundation's annual grants goes for scholarships for poor students through programs like Say Yes To Education.

On other initiative the foundation has funded over the years to help poor black students is the Saturday Academy which brings together African-American students on Saturdays to be mentored by teachers and improve their literacy.

A civil society organisation called 100 Men of Syracuse won the $100,000 grant to execute the project which so far is proving beneficial to the learners.   

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