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Common life ambitions include getting an education, finding meaningful work, and contributing to society. Although a college degree has increasingly become a prerequisite to fulfilling these ambitions, post secondary education seems to be out of reach for many young people living in under resourced communities. Currently about 9% of DC students, and 5% living east of the Anacostia River, attend and graduate from college within five years of their high school graduation.
Our focus is on the critical middle and early high school years (8th and 9th grade). During these formative years, students are optimistic and making important decisions that will impact their future, including whether or not to stay in school and how to use their high school years. We know that building an awareness of college and career options is the first step in increasing the number of students who successfully complete college and pursue a career. Early exposure to career options and the college preparation process helps students understand the importance of utilizing all four years of high school to build a strong resume that includes challenging academic classes, a high cumulative GPA, and a variety of extracurricular activities.
Although our most significant dropout challenge occurs in 9th grade, most college access programs provide services primarily to 11th and 12th grade students, leaving a considerable gap for services provided to the lower grades. A recommendation of the Double the Numbers report sponsored by the Bridgespan Group and the Gates Foundation states:
“Intensify efforts to reach students in lower grades. Much recent research has suggested building student awareness of college and career opportunities in the middle grades, where DC currently has very few programs...More providers must be oriented toward these lower grades.”