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“We should focus interventions on supporting teen moms so that they stay in school. That way, we would be helping a mother and a baby have a better future, so it’s a double impact,” argued Trevor, a sophomore at John O’Connell High School, as students debated the best solutions and interventions for high school dropout prevention.

The discussion was part of this week’s “College and Career Class,” when students explore their options and make sure they are on track, using the Plan Ahead curriculum. There is a growing conversation about dropout prevention, as the country is celebrating related good news. As highlighted in the December 2015 newsletter of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Latino high school graduation is at an all-time high – 76.3 percent. While this number is still lower than the 82 percent overall graduation rate in the nation, the gap is narrowing, according to the Common Core of Data.

The newsletter also stated that “traditionally underserved populations like English language learners and students with disabilities continue to make gains.”

In California, the overall graduation is now 81 percent, with 77 percent for Latinos – a lesser gap than nationwide.

Working for the Mission Promise Neighborhood, Education Manager Laura Andersen has seen the challenges at John O’Connell High School first hand. These traditional barriers to a high graduation rate range from supporting a high percentage of students receiving special education services, who are from very-low-income families or who are identified as English learners.

Explains Andersen, “John O’Connell, which became a Mission Promise Neighborhood high school in 2013, is tackling the most complex barriers for students every day, moving a community toward making high school graduation possible for all students, one at a time.”

The Latino graduation rate for 2013-14 at O’Connell increased to 78 percent, higher than the national and California rate for that ethnicity.

These numbers show that O’Connell’s strategy is making an impact. Various best practices combine to make this happen.

Start with a 6:1 student-to-staff ratio, which demonstrates a commitment to developing strong relationships with students and the adult community. Teachers also stay with students for two academic years at a time, so as to personalize learning and maintain an atmosphere of consistency for students.

Then there are the high expectations set for students, who are encouraged to pursue AP classes, honors courses and concurrent enrollment in City College of San Francisco. This abets a college-going culture at school, with community partners working to bring this environment into the home, too. This is especially important for Latino immigrant communities, with parents wanting their children to attend college, but needing assistance in how to guide the student in that direction.

Across the board, O’Connell’s curriculum focuses on preparing all students for the future. They learn through an integrated curriculum, project-based learning and group work. This culminates when juniors and seniors solve real-world problems through the lab of their choice: Health Behavioral Sciences; Environmental Technology; Building, Construction and Trades; or Culinary Entrepreneurship.

With an eye on the Latino graduation rate in particular, O’Connell’s Spanish-immersion program develops high levels of English and Spanish proficiency, complemented by literacy, academic competency and multicultural understanding. Those bilingual staff members also provide a consistent communication bridge with families.

Such strategies will continue to make a difference over the years, with an anticipated graduation rate for Latinos – and all O’Connell students – increasing every year.

It’s called community impact.


About Mission Promise Neighborhood
The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working, and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.



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San Francisco, CA 94110

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