Central Falls High School Creates College Initiative

 

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CENTRAL FALLS, R.I.__ In the halls of Central Falls High School, there is a clear emphasis on the importance of graduation and college education. In February of 2010, Central Falls High School reached an all time low in many aspects. The school made national news when the entire school faculty was fired, and the graduation rate was at a low 48 percent, which is 35 percent lower than the Rhode Island state average.

Now, over six years later, that graduation rate has progressed and students see a 70 percent chance of graduating high school. This number is a great accomplishment for Central Falls administrators who have worked hard to ensure students are staying in high school, though that number is still 11 percent lower than the national average and 13 percent lower than the state average.

Graduating high school is the first step, going to college is the next step and a decision that many students choose not to take. This can be a result of many factors, anything from from financial stability to family life. In this small urban town of nearly 20,000 residents, the living conditions are not up to par with the rest of the country. In fact, last year Kids Count reported that 41 percent of children in Central Falls live in poverty.

A report published by the Wall Street Journal shows how large the gap is between students from low-income families and students from high-income families and their pursuit of a college education. This report also shows that the students from low-income families that do choose to attend college have a lower chance of actually graduating.

This is why faculty and administrators at Central Falls High School want to help students overcome this inherent adversity and push for their students to pursue a higher education. Central Falls High School and Rhode Island College (RIC) have created a partnership that aims to create an initiative for students to succeed in the classroom.

Amy Burns is the Director of Transformation at Central Falls public schools, which include the high school, Calcutt Middle School and Veterans Memorial Elementary School. She has made it her mission to give high school students an opportunity to go to college.

She was part of the team that launched the RIC partnership through an innovation lab. “The idea kind of just happened, like could a Central Falls High School diploma equal automatic acceptance to RIC. We realized, why not? It is an innovation lab let’s just try it and see in this pilot year what happens,” she said.

This idea happened a little over a year ago, during the 2014-2015 school year. Administrators from both RIC and Central Falls School District came together to decide how they should collaborate to help students get accepted to RIC.

“We examined the criteria for admission to Rhode Island College, and we discovered that really what kids needed was to be in the top half of their class, according to GPA, they needed to complete the application of course. They needed to take the SATS, they didn’t even need a minimum score. So we thought, let’s give it a go,” said Burns.

That pilot year was extremely successful and lead to 88 students receiving a conditional acceptance to RIC. A conditional acceptance means that they can be offered an official acceptance to that college as long as they follow specific guidelines.

“We were able to work with RIC and the district to provide the following incentives. They get almost 500 dollars financial break from Rhode Island College if they choose to go to RIC. The other thing we wanted to do was to set up high expectations because we we are offering these benefits. We didn’t want to just give it to the kids, we wanted them to earn it,” said Burns.

These incentives came with many expectations that aim to encourage students to continue to uphold their academic standing.

“We put in place an attendance requirement which meant they had to earn a certificate of reliability. That means they could have no unexcused absences, no unexcused tardies, and we set that for the first quarter of the senior year. They had to maintain their GPA, so they can’t get this conditional acceptance and then take a nosedive their senior year. Finally, they had to take the SATS and complete the common app,” said Burns.

Of the 88 students with a conditional acceptance to RIC, 66 have gone through with the process and 52 of the students have been officially accepted to the college. That number is expected to go up in the weeks to come.

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“Parts of this program were successful and parts need to be improved upon. But in general it has been a really great experience for Central Falls, for kids, for families, for teachers, and also for Rhode Island College, because there have been a lot of people at RIC that have been involved. It’s a really great example of how this partnership can work for both the college and the district,” said Burns.

Now that the pilot year proved to be a success, they have shifted the focus on improving the program for next year.

“This year we’re really trying to make it more rigorous. We’re increasing the number of requirements, the number of benchmarks to hit. It’s not just the top half of the class anymore, they have to have a 2.5 GPA or they’re not part of the sample. And they have to keep a 2.5,” said Burns.

On April 28, they plan to make the official announcement to 79 juniors that they are part of this year’s sample of students that are conditionally accepted to RIC.

Edimara Da Veiga is a senior at Central Falls High School and is one of the 52 students in the pilot sample that have received an official acceptance from RIC. Da Veiga has made the decision to pursue that opportunity and attend RIC in the Fall.

“I plan to attend RIC college to study criminal justice and live on campus. My sister goes there and they have a great criminal justice program,” said Da Veiga.

Aside from the conditional acceptance, she always considered RIC as an option due to her sister’s positive experience at that college.

“I decided to live on campus because it will be a waste of gas money when it’s close and better for me to get to my classes,” said Da Veiga.

Like many students at Central Falls High School, she is always considering what may be the best financial option for her and her family. She is also very proud of her decision to pursue a college degree.

“It is important for me to go to college because I will be first generation in my family to go to attend college and to graduate,” said Da Veiga.

However, that decision is not that easy for all her classmates. Dominic Perry is a student at Central Falls High School that has made the decision not to go to college, with aspirations to go straight into the workforce.

“After high school I want to instantly get into a job, but I don’t wanna sit behind a desk, I want to move around. I don’t want anyone to be my boss, I want to be my own boss,” said Perry.

He may have high expectations for a first job with just a high school degree, but his difficult experience in the classroom give him reasons to choose not to continue down the path of higher education.

“Personally I don’t like school. I like school, but I don’t like the environment. I just don’t feel like it’s a right fit for me to be in college… I don’t want to waste the money or waste the time,” said Perry.

Like many low-income children, Perry had to make an economical decision that would hopefully save him the money that would have been put toward a college degree.

Even though Perry has chosen a different path, the Principal, Troy Silvia, strongly urges students to look into the option of a college education and understand the benefits that could have on the community.

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“We really focus on college language, college vocabulary, and using those terminologies to students. We host a lot of forums, guest speakers and community members that have gone to college to come back and speak with students,” said Silvia.

He attributes the community partnership with RIC as a huge incentive for students to succeed.

“The partnership with Rhode Island College has been a huge piece because we conditionally accept half of our junior class, 50 percent of the students with the top GPA get a conditional acceptance letters to RIC. They also have to meet other requirements, with attendance and grades,” said Silvia.

Overall, he hopes students will recognize the importance of pursuing a higher education and choose to go down that path.

“In today’s day and age a lot of students know, a high school diploma probably isn’t enough. They need to go to college,” said Silvia.

The Power of Digital Storytelling

Over the course of this semester we learned the power of digital storytelling. This skill is very important to me personally because I consider myself a visual person. Our final assignment of the semester for Digital Journalism was to create a package on our beats, that have at least five aspects of digital media or interactivity. Right away we knew we wanted to use some ideas we got from class, when we heard the untold story of the USS Kirk from the Vietnam War via NPR.

The one thing I really took away from that piece was the idea that we could add different stories that we were not able to include in our package. For example, we had a really important interview with Scott Slater, the Rhode Island Representative that proposed the bill to legalize and tax the recreational use of marijuana in the Ocean State. We learned a really unique story about Slater’s father, and how he wrote the bill for medical marijuana that passed in 2006. Though this story was not very useful for the story we were telling in our package, we though this could add some human interest, so we added the soundbites from his story, and placed it strategically in our article.

Another aspect of interactivity that I thought would be useful was a poll. Since our article includes statistics on a recent poll in Rhode Island, where people were asked if they would be okay with legalization of marijuana if it were taxed similarly to alcohol, we decided to do a follow-up question to that poll.

Other that that, we incorporated lessons from this class, such as a ThingLink and we created our own Google Map. Both of these illustrations added a lot of visuals to our package. The Google Map was able to show where all the dispensaries are located in the state, and the ThingLike highlighted some important facts about marijuana. Other than that, our most important aspect of our final project was the video package, and i think we were pretty satisfied with how that came out! Overall, it’s been a great semester and the lessons I learned in this class will certainly stick with me in all of my journalism classes and future endeavors.

RI Lawmakers Spark Marijuana Conversation

Once again Rhode Island lawmakers spark the conversation that may just spark joints statewide. That’s right, the topic of legalization is back on the table, as many strongly believe the regulation of marijuana could bring a big boost in the economy.

There is new legislation that was introduced by Sen. Josh Miller and Rep. Scott Slater joined by members of Regulate Rhode Island. The goal is to end Rhode Island’s prohibition of marijuana and instead tax and regulate it like alcohol. The bill has been introduced three years earlier, but it currently has a lot of momentum.

The proposal would allow those who are 21 and older to possess and cultivate very limited amounts of cannabis. The Department of Business Regulation will have to license and regulate marijuana producers and at least 10 retail marijuana stores.

This approach to marijuana could create thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars of new revenue, as it has for Colorado. A report issued by OpenDoors estimates that the proposed Rhode Island model would generate between $21.5 and $82 million a year in a much needed new tax revenue.

In poll of 762 Rhode Island voters, 57 percent support the legalization and taxation of marijuana, in a manner that is similar to alcohol.

Today, Brown University will host a public forum with expert speakers to discuss both sides of the bill. Panel will talk about health issues, social justice, taxation, revenue, and social costs.

Photo by  ૐ Didi ૐ / Flickr

Photo by ૐ Didi ૐ / Flickr

Providence Food Trucks to a Street Near You

Providence is known to have dozens of different food trucks that drive around the city all season long. Summer is just around the corner, which means food trucks will be back on their wheels again to satisfy the stomach’s of Rhode Islanders.

If you ever wonder where to find your favorite food truck flavor, we compiled a list of food trucks in the city of Providence, and their primary location.

On Friday, May 1st the Eat Drink RI Festival will host Truck Stop to benefit the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

Participating trucks include:
Acacia Cafe
Buddha Belly
Citizen Wing
Ellie’s Bakery
Flour Girls Baking Company LLC
Fugo Food Truck
Gilded Tomato Company
GottaQ BBQ Food Truck & Catering
Like No Udder
Mijos Tacos
Noble Knots
O’Crepe
Pat’s Pastured
Presto Strange O Coffee Truck
Rocket Fine Street Food
Tallulah’s Taqueria

Small Business Spotlight: Aquidneck Honey

Aquidneck Honey is located in Middletown, Rhode Island and owned and operated by Jeff Mello. They produce many different chemical-free honey products, including raw honey, honey combs and flavored honey.

To some, bees are pesky little insects that give you a sharp shooting sting when you get in their way. For others they are used to make delicious sweet honey. But what people tend to not realize is that those bees are actually vital to our society, specifically because of their role in our food chain.

Jeff Mello is the owner of Aquidneck Honey, and though he is deathly allergic to bees, that does not stop his passion for bee farming. He takes care of his bees properly and keeps chemicals far away from his hives.

He also is on-call for situations where there are dangerous hives in public areas. He will safely remove the hive, and then restore the bees to bring them to safety. Alternatively, If he didn’t do that, the bees would be killed. He also helps people who want to start their own hives.

Not only does his work help populate the bee community, he also helps the human population. Bees are the most important pollinator of food crops. In fact, more than 80% of US crops are said to rely on honey bees.

“We all eat plants, vegetables, animals. Animals eat plants and other animals. Bees are at the very beginning of our food cycle. The very beginning. Without bees we will cease to exist,” said Mello.

Crowdfunding Helps Start Up Businesses

Photo by Rocio Lara / Flickr

Photo by Rocio Lara / Flickr

Once again the Internet has proved to change the way the world operates. Now, crowdfunding has become a viable option for those trying to start up a business.

This concept is very new, and some are still unsure how it works. Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project by raising money from a large number of people, by means of the Internet. This can be used to fund service trips, hospital bills, and now it is helping small businesses raise enough money to get through the start up phase.

Companies like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and GoFundMe are all similar funding platforms that attract people in need of monetary donations.  Social media websites are being used to share and advertise these campaigns, and it has proved to be successful.

With this new dynamic in the digital realm, the Internet has once again proved to be an extremely powerful tool. Powerful enough to help fuel the economy, and the current state of the Rhode Island can use all the help it can get.