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Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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TV Smart Talk - Getting Our Kids to Graduate

Written by Nell McCormack Abom | Sep 20, 2012 8:38 AM

Would it shock you to know that about 10,000 Pennsylvania teenagers drop out of school every year? Why do they do it? And, what does it mean to their future, and to the health and welfare of our state, if so many of our young people fail to earn a high school diploma?test taking2.jpg We’ll explore the tragic consequences of school dropouts and what we all can do to prevent them on TV Smart Talk, tonight at 8 on witf TV. We encourage you to join the conversation. Call in live to 1-800-729-7532, email us at, post a comment below or to Facebook, or tweet @witfnews.

PBS has launched a multi-year, public media campaign to raise awareness and spark community action to fight teenage dropouts. The effort, American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, focuses on finding and adopting solutions that help children succeed in school. FRONTLINE also offers a series of reports, one of which looks at the critical moments in middle school that too often lead kids to drop out.

One of the most compelling facts in favor of earning a diploma is the one that hits students in their wallets: College graduates earn more than $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school dropouts.  Health outcomes, employment opportunities, staying out of jail – all of these metrics improve if you secure that high school diploma. Nathan Mains, president of Communities in Schools in Pennsylvania, will join us.  CIS has developed a website that allows you to track the financial costs of dropouts.  His non-profit works intensively in 45 districts and 137 schools across the state, and serves 27,000 at-risk students.  "Sometimes it's as simple as a kid needing an alarm clock.  We get him an alarm clock that works.  We actually had that situation with a student in a Harrisburg school," Mains explains.

Not all reasons and solutions for dropouts are that simple.  We’ll go in depth on the factors that lead children to drop out and talk about some of the successful initiatives underway in Pennsylvania to graduate more high schoolers.  First Lady Susan Corbett, a former teacher, has made dropout prevention a "primary initiative" of her office.

Our guests include Kirk Hallett, founder and director of The Joshua Group in Harrisburg and a member of the PA Board of Education. Hallett’s team lives and works in one of Harrisburg’s poorest neighborhoods and targets intensive tutoring and mentoring to what he calls, “at-promise kids.” The Joshua Group has successfully convinced many young people to attain a high school diploma but the challenge is remarkable. The latest PDE data available from 2010 shows nearly 5% of the Harrisburg School district’s students in grades 7-12 dropped out. That was 162 students about evenly split between boys (80) and girls (82).

One of the highest dropout rates recorded by the PDE in 2010 was in Berks County. The Reading School District had a whopping 5.84% of its 7th-12th graders give up - 442 children. They were pretty evenly split between boys (224) and girls (218).  The Newshour produced a compelling piece last fall on the hard times that have hit the City of Reading, its rapidly increasing Latino immigrant population and the way these demographic and economic changes have wreaked havoc on young students' lives.

We'll also hear from Pedro Rivera, superintendent of The School District of Lancaster which has seen a major increase in its Latino-student population over the last 10 years.  It is now a Hispanic-majority district (57.9%.)  More than 140 kids (5.22%) dropped out of McCaskey High School in 2010.  And, Leigh Dalton, director of the York County Truancy Prevention Initiative, also will enliven our panel.  She notes that "truancy is the gateway to dropping out."  Two of the major causes of truancy and subsequent drop-out issues, Dalton says, are the fact that many of these kids report being bullied by their peers and also needing to care for younger siblings at home while their parent works during the day.

Please share your thoughts on how we can graduate more Pennsylvania high school students by calling 1-800-729-7532, emailing us at, tweeting @witfnews, or post a comment here or on Facebook.    

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