As the saying goes, our children are 100 percent of our future. Society has an obligation to ensure our youth have the educational opportunities to fulfill their potential and secure a bright future. To that end, several ideas surfaced over the past week that hold the promise of helping a variety of youth.
Boost to reading skills
One of the continuing challenges that educators face is students entering school behind on reading skills.
By the third grade, too many fail to pass proficiency tests -- and that grade level is a critical indicator of graduation and career success.
To improve the reading capabilities of the most vulnerable children before they enter kindergarten, the Manatee County School District is seeking funding from the county for a software literacy program that preschoolers can access on cell phones and computers.
The application, called Footsteps2Brilliance, would help an estimated 1,200 children ages 3 and 4.
With game-like animation, story-telling and interactive features, the app engages youngsters in ways printed material cannot.
By being prepared for kindergarten, these children would be less likely to fall behind academically, and their chances of receiving a high school diploma would be enhanced.
The one-time cost, $120,000 from the county's special children's services tax, looks like a solid investment in quite a few young lives -- now and in the future.
A focus on black males
Our school district will be implementing a much-needed plan to increase the graduation rate of black males while also lowering suspension and dropout rates. A district audit found a disproportionate number of black students had been classified with emotional behavioral disabilities that hinder classroom performance.
While 14 percent of the district's student population is black, those youngsters account for 45 percent of the EBD cases.
A portion of the district's strategy to monitor academics, discipline, attendance, retention and socioeconomic status is becoming operational this school year, the director of exceptional student education, Wylene Herring-Cayasso, told the school board last week. The roll-out will extend into next year, and data will be collected over three years to gauge success.
Mentors from the community will be enlisted to black males who fit three of the five EBD categories. The district will also establish parent-training academies since many black males come from single-parent households, and educators will be pushed to encourage more students into gifted programs. In addition, the district plans to recruit more black teachers and support staff.
Kudos to the school district for focusing on this deserving student population.
Interceding on suspensions
Another at-risk group of students -- those suspended from school -- needs attention, too. The Manatee County Children's Services Advisory Board told county commissioners that a program designed to steer youngsters away from additional penalties and support academic efforts in a structured environment has been under-utilized.
Only 3 percent of the 3,800 students who could benefit from the program -- mostly in sixth to eighth grades -- are being referred to the Manatee County Boys and Girls Club Alternative To Out-of-School Suspension by their schools.
The advisory board chair, Jennifer Radebach, advised commissioners that the ATOSS program lacks a mandate from the school district administration or school board. At a cost of nearly $200,000 this fiscal year, ATOSS should be a priority instead of allowing students to roam the streets and fall behind in their education.
With school board member Karen Carpenter sitting on the advisory board, this issue should capture the attention of the district. And be rectified post haste. We can't abandon any youngster.