By Acacia Dougan and Lucie Lapomme
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- In 2016, New Rochelle High School (NRHS) announced that it raised its graduation rates from 78% in 2008 to 86% in 2016. This was an important accomplishment for NRHS, especially since Hispanic students broke the 80-percentile mark for the first time with the most recent graduating class. Hispanic students are the largest demographic at the school, and have a lower graduation rate and higher dropout rate than other students.
In order to increase its graduation rate, New Rochelle High School has created new programs to help students struggling in school. One of these programs pairs at-risk teens with counselors who mentor them and provide them with guidance, whether that be in academic endeavors or home life. Another resource available to students is the Extended Day Program, which allows them to take night classes in order to obtain necessary school credits and graduate on time. To increase the graduation rates for Hispanic students specifically, NRHS offers Spanish GED courses and ESL classes for students who may not be fluent in English. Additionally, the school has partnered with the Guidance Center of Westchester to offer more services in the school, such as job and vocational training, college readiness support and tutoring.
The school’s most recent action includes getting involved in President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which encourages boys and young men of color to reach their full academic potential, strive for higher education, and attain a successful career path. With this initiative, Reginald Richardson, the principal of NRHS, has high hopes of minimizing the graduation rate gap between different ethnic student groups in the next few years. This program gives New Rochelle the potential to be an example of success for other schools around the country.
Even with these programs, NRHS still has a lot of work left to do. Overall, New Rochelle is one of the less affluent communities within Westchester. New Rochelle’s median income is lower than other Westchester communities, therefore the high school receives less funding for improving programs and facilities. Compared to other public Westchester schools, NRHS also has one of the lowest graduation rates. While the recent increase in graduation rates represents a milestone for the school, NRHS still scored significantly lower on the New York State Regents Exams compared to the average public Westchester high school. The issue of low performance and achievement may be rooted in a different area of education: early childhood education.
Research shows that children enrolled in early education programs have a higher chance of graduating high school, attending college and having fewer behavioral problems. Enrolling children in early education programs has proven to benefit families and communities, because parents are more likely to seek employment. Furthermore, local governments do not have to spend as much money later on in students’ education to stay on track to graduate. Therefore, tackling the achievement gap earlier on will be more impactful to the students than trying to mitigate the effects of the gap later on in their school careers. New Rochelle could benefit its future high school students by shifting its focus to this area.
While NRHS’s programs are important for the achievements of current students, investing in early education would have a greater impact on closing the existing achievement gap. The long-term benefits of improving early childhood education, such as increased graduation rates, will only be evident in several years. Once early childhood education is improved, we hope that the programs offered at NRHS today will not be as necessary for future students.
Acacia Dougan and Lucie Lapomme are undergraduate students at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at NYU.