Only 21 out of 50 states require students to attend high school until they graduate or turn 18. I believe all states should require students to attend high school. What I have noticed from loved ones and the people around me is that those who feel like they have an option to attend or not will often choose to drop out. Those who feel overwhelmed and stressed may drop out. Teens that become pregnant with no support from the father of the child or family may drop out. I care about this major issue of high school dropouts because my generation is the future. I believe that our futures are bright and have a lot of potential but the only way to prove this to the world is for us to improve the dropout rate.

As a teenager myself in the DCPS (DC Public Schools) system I have experienced some frustrations first hand. Teachers would tell me I’m privileged to be here because I’m out of the normal school boundary. I was worried that I would be sent back to my neighborhood schools. My mother had to give up her dream for college and a successful career to take her four kids across town to get better education options for elementary, middle, and high school. All I could think about was how I was going to respond to the words. It wasn’t my fault I lived all the way across town and had to get up at 5 every morning and be out by 6. Her sacrifice motivates me to stay in school.

The Washington Post reported in 2012 “The number of high schools where at least 60% of students do not graduate on time fell from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,550 in 2010…” which is still pretty high!  You tend to ask yourself, what happened? What happened to striving for excellence? What happened to the ongoing thirst for knowledge? It is estimated that approximately 5% of high school students will drop out before they graduate. Our teens and our children gave up. They couldn’t resist lust, temptation, and peer pressure, the fear of not fitting in. Dropping out of school and cigarette smoking are closely related. Smokers ages 16-17 are twice as likely to drop out of school. That is our problem as a nation, it is that fear that holds us back, not humbling ourselves to achieve our goals and become what we want in life. If we as a nation put our best foot forward in applying ourselves, we would have the highest rate of high school and college graduation. Then we would have truly made a difference, a change in the way people live, and impacted what the future holds for the next generation.

In 1970, the United States had the world’s highest rate of high school and college graduation. Today, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, graduation rates in the US have slipped to #21 in high school completion and #15 in college completion compared to other countries. Over the past few years this organization has studied the behaviors of students transitioning from middle school into high school, such as myself, a freshman. Based on research that was conducted from 1980 to 2011 on this topic, it is estimated that only 7 of 10 of today’s ninth graders will get high school diplomas. A decade after the “No Child Left Behind” law mandated efforts to reduce the racial gap, “80 percent of white and Asian students graduate from high school, compared to Blacks and Hispanics, with only 55 percent.” (New York Times, Jan 25, 2012.) Some Americans probably think that preventing at least 1.3 million students from becoming high school dropouts can’t be accomplished, but in fact the costs of inaction are far greater.

As Obama’s motto goes, “YES WE CAN.” I personally believe any teenager in this nation can do and be anything they want if they put their minds to it. All you need is the three D’s in your head to succeed in life: determination, dedication, and discipline. You can’t allow yourself to become stressed over work and school. You must plan out your day wisely, use a planner, and do whatever you have to do to receive your education, your high school diploma. Teens often feel the need to drop out when they have too much homework or can’t seem to pass any of their tests. I’ve learned through experience that if I do not procrastinate then I will not have a problem with my classes.

To stay away from procrastinating I make sure I have an agenda book all year round. This agenda book helps me manage my time wisely. I also keep a big clock by my bed so if I do not finish my homework one night, I plan to do it early the next morning and still be on time for school. My teachers have helped me come up with practical study methods to keep up with my classes, and have slowly seen how they helped to keep me organized and have a better understanding of the material. If you try some of these strategies, I am sure you will pass every test that is put in front of you.

High school completion is the most significant requirement for entering college. That’s what makes this topic so important. Earning a diploma in high school, instead of dropping out, affects your future more than you know. Studies show that the typical high school graduate will obtain higher levels of employment and earnings than those students who do not graduate; an astonishing 50% – 100% increase in lifetime income. According to a piece on the opinions page of the New York Times “Proven educational strategies to increase high school completion, like high-quality preschool, provide returns to the taxpayer that are as much as three and a half times their cost. Investing our public dollars wisely to reduce the number of high school dropouts must be a central part of any strategy to raise long-run economic growth, reduce inequality and return fiscal health to our federal, state and local governments.”

I do believe that if the Department of Education and DC Public Schools approach the problem at a younger age it may change the number of dropouts. Scholars who are taught in small groups, followed up with home visits by teachers and with group meeting of parents, will help decrease the dropout rate. I know this for a fact based on personal experiences with teachers from elementary school all the way up to high school. I always needed that one-on-one help from my teachers so I could better understand what I was learning. In elementary school I did not get the help I needed to succeed, therefore I fell short and barely graduated. During my elementary years I was held back in 5th grade and I became depressed. In the long run it helped me, and made me strive harder to prove that the DCPS system had made a mistake keeping me back. With this determined attitude I maintained a GPA of 3.67 my freshman year.

Pushing myself is what prevented me from dropping out even though the thoughts have wandered through my head. If I can make it, everyone else can too. Throughout the years, I’ve understood that sometimes you have to step out of your tiny shell and cry for help. Take all the fear of what people might say, the “what ifs,” and leave them inside the shell and step out as a brand new person. Surround yourself with the people who want to be something great in their future, and are working on the blueprint for their career or success. Programs during the summer such as Upward Bound at Howard University and GW are good ways to meet ambitious, smart, outgoing people. That way you are not missing out on your high school or college experience. There are even year-long programs such as the Higher Achievement program in your local ward. I was actually involved in that program and it bettered me and gave me the help and tutoring that I desperately needed. Dropping out does not have to be the only option.

When you drop out of high school, there is no guarantee that you will get a job that pays more than minimum wage. There is no guarantee that you will be able to open your own business, or that a college will accept you. Having a high school diploma makes a difference, it guarantees you more than someone without one. Your future is in your hands, only you can determine your success or how successful you will be in the future. You determine whether you will be able to provide for a family someday. Don’t let the temptation, lust, peer pressure, and the fear of not fitting in hinder you from your dreams and long term goals. You have the power!

Portia Ifill
Written By:

Porchia Latrice Ifill

Grade 9

McKinley Tech HS