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|(Front, left to right) Dr. Cindy Reed, Dean Frances Kochan and Auburn student Brandon Morgan celebrated receipt of a $400,000 AT&T Foundation gift with (back row, far right) Auburn University President Jay Gogue, (second from right) Dr. Jeffrey Brooks and representatives of AT&T Alabama.|
A $400,000 gift from the AT&T Foundation will fund an initiative by the Auburn University College of Education's Truman Pierce Institute to reduce the dropout rate in Alabama high schools, but it also stands as an investment in the state's future economic well-being.
According to a recent study by the Southern Educational Foundation , a lagging state economy over the course of the last three decades stems in part from an alarming high school dropout rate. The study found that Alabama 's high school dropout rate soared to 39 percent in 2006-07, a statistic that contributes to the state ranking 42nd in the nation in per capita income. The SEF reported that almost two-thirds of Alabama 's income gap with the rest of the nation is entirely attributable to educational shortcomings.
In order to combat the problem, the Truman Pierce Institute will use its funding from the AT&T Foundation to introduce a pilot program, "Building Individual Capacity for Success,'' at Opelika High School, Dadeville High School, Bullock County High School, a Hale County high school and Loachapoka High School in Lee County. Dr. Cindy Reed, director of the Truman Pierce Institute, said the program will identify 50 at-risk children each year and assist them as they make the transition from eighth to ninth grade. Each cohort will receive services throughout their high school career. The components of the initiative include mentoring, leadership training, service learning, action research, and exposure to a global awareness curriculum. Dr. Jeffrey Brooks, co-director of the project, and Dr. Lisa Kensler, evaluator for the project, are both faculty members in the Department of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Technology, and will help Reed implement the program.
"It's a non-traditional program,'' said Reed, who is also a professor in the Department of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Technology. "We believe very strongly that rather than doing more remediation with young people, we need to be looking at ways to be building them up as individuals, to really help them understand the opportunities they have to be successful and to build from one success to the next.''
Kensler, a former middle school and high school teacher in urban and suburban settings, said that the students will be inspired to envision possibilities they might not have previously imagined.
"We're really trying to connect kids with the world beyond themselves and help them see and understand how what they have to contribute to the world is needed and that there is a path for them to engage in that,'' she said.
The $400,000 gift from the AT&T Foundation reflects the communications holding company's commitment to education. AT&T Alabama President Fred McCallum said the grant is a byproduct of the ASPIRE Program, a nationwide philanthropic endeavor that will provide $100 million to schools and nonprofit organizations aimed at retaining high school students, preparing them for college and equipping them for the workforce.
"The idea is for us to do our part to engage with the higher education community, with the local school districts, to start a dialogue and see what we can do to bring to bear some results on what we all agree is a high school dropout rate that is unacceptable,'' he said.
McCallum and Auburn President Jay Gogue stressed the importance of student retention during remarks at a Dec. 1 reception hosted by the university at the The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center to honor AT&T representatives and highlight "Building Individual Capacity for Success.'' In its study of high school students during the 2006-07 school year, the Southern Educational Foundation labeled the 39 percent dropout rate the state's "number one'' educational and economic obstacle.
"It gets to be a really scary number,'' Gogue said of the state dropout rate. "We know it's important for our state and it's important for our families to know that those kids can stay in school and they can go to college and they can be successful.''
Dr. Marvin Lowe, principal of Bullock County High School, and Darren Douthitt, assistant superintendent of secondary education, curriculum, and instruction for Lee County Schools, said the peer connection component of the "Building Individual Capacity for Success'' program may prove to be its most powerful asset. Students assisted by the Truman Pierce Institute will be called upon to act as mentors by sharing lessons they learn with future classes in the program.
"It's going to be a phenomenal experience to work with these students and watch them grow,'' Lowe said. "You start a peer connection that will keep other students in school.''
Added Douthitt: "If we can save five, six or seven kids a year with this initiative, it will have a huge impact.''
At least one member in the audience during the celebratory reception could provide personal testimony to the Truman Pierce Institute's effectiveness in building engaged students and young leaders. Brandon Morgan, an Auburn University junior majoring in radio, television and film, was among an early group of Tallapoosa County students that the Truman Pierce Institute reached. Founded in 1982 as an outreach and research unit of the College of Education , the Truman Pierce Institute has worked with Alabama educators and students to provide programs that meet the needs of schools and communities. Morgan, who serves as president of Auburn University 's Student Alumni Board, credits the Truman Pierce Institute with helping him realize his potential as a student and leader.
"What Dr. Reed and her staff are trying to do with students past, present and hopefully in the future is awesome,'' Morgan said.
To see additional media coverage of the AT&T Foundation's gift to the Truman Pierce Institute, follow these links:
Last Updated: Jun 17, 2011