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Bowman takes on L.A. summit

Students invited to discuss ways to keep high schoolers from dropping out

Posted: June 9, 2009 6:26 p.m.
Updated: June 9, 2009 6:17 p.m.
Bowman juniors Omid Vakili and Candida Castaneda work on an assignment in the exhibition gallery of the Center for the Preservation of Democracy. Bowman juniors Omid Vakili and Candida Castaneda work on an assignment in the exhibition gallery of the Center for the Preservation of Democracy.
Bowman juniors Omid Vakili and Candida Castaneda work on an assignment in the exhibition gallery of the Center for the Preservation of Democracy.
A team from Bowman High School attended the Los Angeles County Youth Graduation Empowerment Summit recently held at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles.

Students from select continuation high schools were invited to discuss and generate solutions to the state’s growing dropout crisis.

The day was filled with open dialogues between students, teachers, presenters, administrators and Los Angeles County Office of Education leaders.

”We had the opportunity to share our views on preventing students from dropping out of school. Having that forum to express our ideas was empowering,” Bowman junior Candida Castaneda said.

The discussion did more than empower and spur great ideas. It also gave students an awareness of others in situations similar to their own.

“I met many interesting students from different schools and was amazed at how we are all alike and have the same goals,”  Bowman junior Omid Vakili said.

Unity in the struggle against the drop-out issue was a recurrent theme not only among students but also in conversations with teachers and administrators.  

“Collaboration about what successful schools are doing as ‘best practices’ is crucial in bridging the gap and in helping at-risk students stay in school, graduate and proceed to college,” said Bowman Principal Robin Geissler.

Open dialogue was another theme of the day. Students were encouraged to be frank about what strategies keep them engaged and what obstacles keep them from graduating or being interested in school.

In this context, faculty and staff listened intently as students like Candida expressed the importance of supportive teachers in making the difference between success and failure.

“Having teachers be passionate about what they do and relating well to students is a key to success for staying in school,” she said. “That’s personally what I love about Bowman. Teachers there care about you and they have fun with their teaching. They are happy to be at school helping us.”

The day was hosted by students from comprehensive schools, who often are most at-risk of dropping out of school. The critical questions county facilitators posed to the continuation school students sparked some spirited discussion: “What kept you from dropping out? What does your school do that keeps you going?”

Positive responses generated by the continuation students affirmed that what their schools are actively doing to close the achievement gap is working.

Alternative-education students stressed that they were still in school and on track to graduate due to the efforts of the dedicated teachers and staff members at their schools.

The most poignant comments, which really summarized the day, came from juniors Vakili and Castaneda. “Bowman High School is exactly what I need to graduate,” Vakili said. “This school gives me the opportunity to concentrate on being successful, providing me with the peer mediation and support necessary to achieve my dreams. I plan on becoming an engineer, and I am confident that I will be successful.”

Castaneda’s plan includes attending college, training as a medical assistant and then eventually completing a nursing program.

“I love helping people. My ultimate goal is to work for St. Jude’s Hospital, helping cancer patients recover,” she said.

“My grandpa had cancer, and I visited him there and saw how much his doctors and nurses helped. I want to give back, just like they did for my family. Honestly though, I never would have even thought I could achieve this dream before I went to Bowman High School.  They gave me a second chance to make the most of my life.”

Bowman High School’s current graduation rate is 96.8 percent. “This amazing statistic must be measured by the faces of the students it represents,” Geissler said.

“These are individual lives saved and bright futures claimed. Although the statistic is remarkable and deserving of praise, I can’t help but think about the fates of the other students who did not graduate.

“Until every student succeeds, earns a high-school diploma and is on track with a post-secondary plan, we can’t quit. We just can’t give up on our kids. If we fail our students, we jeopardize our democratic ideals, our hope for the future and our moral obligation as champions of freedom. It is clear that failure is not an option.”

Sergio Ballesteros is a social studies teacher at Bowman High School.


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