Income Inequality and the High School Dropout Crisis
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Members of low-income families have numerous barriers to excelling in education. The lack of support that these families receive drives up the dropout rate.
My wife and I have been involved as volunteer tutors in public schools for 8 years. Six years ago my wife was assigned to tutor two 1st grade students (boys) weekly. As she approached the end of the first semester, she realized that these two students could really use some tutoring even during the holidays to keep building momentum in their learning and perhaps to catch up a little bit. We met the family of one of the boys to introduce ourselves and to offer tutoring outside of the school. The parents were enthusiastic and appreciative. We quickly became very fond of the entire family— two parents, one uncle, four children ages 6, 5, 4, and 3. This family has become a huge blessing in our lives.
Early on as we tutored, we recognized the need for experiences as the children (even the parents) spend very little time outside of their apartment. They could spell their spelling words but didn’t know what many simple words meant.
This tutoring showed us up close the effects that poverty, or living in a low-income household, has on education. Both my wife and I developed a passion for helping address barriers to education faced by low-income families. In March of 2014, I convened a group of interested community members, encouraged heavily by the leadership of Washington Township Schools, to talk about how the community can be activated to address barriers to education. Lion Catcher was formed as an informal collaboration of community members. We focus on increasing tutoring, increasing enrichment activities, and increasing access to leadership development for low-income families.
In the summer of 2014, I was able to hire a few High School students to help me with coaching a neighborhood soccer program. I called to recruit HS students living in the apartment communities. A mother of the student whom I was calling answered one of the early phone calls. When I told her the story; that a leader of the High School Athletic Department recommended her son to be a role model and I was calling to see it he was interested in coaching with me, she began to cry. She told me that she never heard anyone speak so highly of her son. I knew right then that I would not give up. I began to realize how great the need is to show our community that all are loved and valued.
In early 2015, after a session of a youth leadership development program, I was waiting in the parking lot with one high school student, waiting for his ride to arrive. He talked about his upbringing in Gary and his journey to Indianapolis with his family. Then he said this, which sticks vividly with me, “I think nobody notices me most of the time, I feel like the community doesn’t care about me or others like me.” Too many students feel this way; there are too many stories like his.
I believe that the dropout crisis, crime, and violence are most directly related to income disparity. Many more barriers exist to excel in education for low-income families. The same barriers make opportunities for leadership development more difficult and rare. The students I work with have not dropped out of school. These students and their neighbors are at-risk. Working with the whole family, establishing self-esteem and realistic hope for the future is our strategy for stemming the flow of dropouts and improving the quality of life for all.
I encourage individuals throughout our cities to get involved to demonstrate love, encouragement, and support. Do this by tutoring, mentoring, hiring, and training young people who don’t otherwise get these blessings. Serve the whole family. Get involved and be reliable in your service. Make sure the effort your volunteerism is managed by thinks sustainably, and holistically. For example, if a family has only one of their three children receive tutoring and only for six months, consider how much good that does. On the other hand, how much good will it do for that one child to be tutored for multiple years, for the older siblings to have mentors and leadership development experiences, for the parent to be involved in leadership and have help with improving their employment status?
I have come to believe that asking others to get involved is not like twisting an arm. Rather, inviting others to get involved is to offer them one of the greatest gifts they can imagine. You know what I’m talking about if you have served others. You know the feeling, the benefit.
Tom Lange worked for Eli Lilly and Company for 34 years in various capacities including Engineering, Supply Chain Management, Organizational Development, Strategy, and Project Management. Since March 2014, Tom has led an informal collaboration of community partners to address barriers to education faced by low-income families: Lion Catcher.