Hal Hansen: A crisis at home ... Why it's vital that we work together to keep kids in school

America's future is at risk. War, terrorism and the high price of oil notwithstanding, there's another threat to consider: Nationally, 30 percent of our youth drop out of high school.

In some communities, as many as 50 percent of all young people will drop out.

Such a situation threatens our nation's future. Who will be tomorrow's leaders? Will they possess the skills necessary to successfully lead? How will these teens-turned-adults get by without a basic understanding of math, science and literacy essential for everyday life?

It's a crisis that affects everyone. For that reason, we should all play a part in solving it.

Research suggests that students most vulnerable to dropping out are poor, have difficulty reading and are frequently absent from school. But other factors can create such a situation and be applied to just about anyone: family crises, learning difficulties, a lack of adult role models, teen pregnancies, violent neighborhoods and living in an area where the graduation rate is low.

It's daunting to think about solving such a widespread crisis, but those of us in youth organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Western Nevada, where I work, have seen that it's possible to turn things around and help at-risk teens earn their high school diplomas.

For one thing, we don't work alone. By creating partnerships with schools, community leaders and parents, and by hiring caring staff, Boys & Girls Clubs create a network and culture in which everyone embraces the importance of high school graduation.

Through our partnerships and community volunteers, we can also offer comprehensive programs that provide everything from homework help and computer learning to career counseling to guide our youth. Once kids understand there's a supportive network of caring people ready to help them succeed, they put forth the extra effort to complete their work and graduate from high school.

And it's working. A national Harris survey finds that 90 percent of Boys & Girls Club alumni graduate from high school or obtain a GED. In fact, 62 percent of former club members said they became more committed to their education at their club. Thirty-three percent said they were the first in their family to go to college. In Carson City, nearly 85 percent graduate, which is actually above the state average of only 75 percent. So there is room for improvement.

Enabling all youth to become proficient in basic educational disciplines, apply learning to everyday situations and engage technology to achieve success in a career might seem like a tall order. But it is possible if, as adults, we lead by example, encourage our children to embrace learning and support local youth organizations. Working together, we can make a difference.

If every one of us commits to helping our young people achieve academic success, we can ensure a stronger nation " and leaders worthy of its aspirations " for generations to come.


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