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.
“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.
“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.