The Path to Prosperity Begins with Education; 'Pro-Schools, Pro- Business'; Helping Low-Income Students Is a Key to the Area's Economic Success; OTHER VIEWS

Article excerpt

While many decisions can set one on the wrong path in life, few exact a greater toll than failing to complete high school. High school dropouts, over their lifetimes, will earn half of what high school graduates earn. They are less likely to pay taxes and more likely to rely on welfare. They comprise 75 percent of all criminal convictions and more than 60 percent of prison populations. As the St. Louis economy struggles to emerge from recession, the metropolitan community, and especially the business community, should take to heart the words of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in its Sept. 7 editorial urging that we, "..... must be pro-schools to be pro-business."

It was a desire to increase the number of St. Louis high school graduates, especially from economically disadvantaged communities, which led to the creation of ACCESS Academies more than seven years ago. ACCESS partner schools implemented the unique NativityMiguel education model to prepare low-income middle school students for high school success. Thanks to the support of business, religious and civic leaders who viewed results-oriented education as an essential investment in St. Louis, ACCESS graduates succeed. Ninety six percent of the more than 400 middle school graduates have been placed in college prep high schools, 92 percent graduate on time and 80 percent are admitted to college.

But it's clear that a broader pathway needs to be cut for other students from low-income households whose academic achievement is undercut by unemployment, inadequate health care, crime and other social ills. Too often, because they have been born into struggling families, disadvantaged students are ill-prepared for school before they ever attend and, once they are in school, bring with them the same difficulties that afflict their homes. Too often they are the children who come to school tired, hungry, and without homework finished. And too often, they are the students who eventually drop out before completing high school.

To improve the likelihood that all children graduate from high school and move on to productive lives as citizens of St. Louis, three priorities must be addressed:

- Children in the city of St. Louis, especially those in poor families, must have greater access to early childhood education. Whether in child care facilities or schools, young children must be provided with an enriched development that enables them to enter kindergarten ready to learn. …