When the graduating seniors from Lincoln High School receive their diplomas Thursday afternoon, May 17 at the University of Denver Magness Arena they will represent some 60 percent of on-time graduates facing an uncertain future in the midst of a slow-motion economic recovery. The Lincoln grads compete well within the Denver Public Schools system, which still faces an uphill climb in beating the dropout rate and closing the achievement gap for minority kids.
Fortunately, recent educational grants aimed at boosting student achievement prove that there is still light at the end of the tunnel.
In April, Lincoln High became one of 10 high schools statewide to receive a portion of $10.5 million federal grant monies distributed through the Colorado Legacy Foundation that will help boost enrollment of students in rigorous college-level Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
The grant from the National Math and Science Initiative focuses on math, sciences and English and provides $100 financial incentives to students who achieve qualifying scores on AP courses. It also provides teacher incentives for students who successfully achieve a qualifying grade on the AP exam to earn college credit.
With the high school graduate unemployment rate hovering around 22 percent these days it’s more critical than ever to continue on to college, vocational school or a paid internship in preparation for the 21st century workforce competition.
For Josefina Petit Higa this is a first step to supporting continued achievement goals since she was promoted from vice-principal at Lincoln High to principal a year ago to oversee more than 1,500 students.
“Obtaining the Colorado Legacy Grant is definitely one initiative that we cherish because we have been working on expanding AP course offerings in the last five years,” Petit Higa said, who oversees a Lincoln student body comprised of 90 percent Latino students.
“We were able to add AP Chemistry for the upcoming year and will be offering 15 different AP courses next year,” she said.
Between 2002 and 2009, the nation’s graduation rate rose by 3.5 percent, from 72 percent to just over 75 percent, according to the annual Building a Grad Nation report by the America’s Promise Alliance. The two key goals for 2020: a national graduation rate of 90 percent and a college graduation rate of 60 percent.
Besides the ongoing challenges of running any high school, Petit Higa is proud of her students.
Last year Lincoln’s graduation rate was just over 63 percent and that rate is expected this year as well, she said, but her ultimate goal would include “bringing in all the initiatives into perfect alignment to take Lincoln High School to the next level in terms of students’ academic performance.
“The other significant challenge is convincing our students to maintain their focus toward graduation since entering a college may not be easy for some of them due to their status in the U.S.”