Neighborhood Summit Cries Out for Change: Community Gets Blunt About Teen Crime & School Problems

Low graduation rates and a teen crime spree in Atlanta brought more than 100 community leaders and concerned citizens together for the Strengthening Families and Communities Summit Thursday.

“We need to give love and support to these kids and educate them that anything is possible,” said Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, Mayor of Riverdale, Ga. She was part of a town hall meeting and her words became a theme for the day.

Pamela Perkins, ICM Coordinator of the Interfaith Children’s Movement, led the School Dropout Prevention workshop, where she and other attendees got candid about the problems.

“This has to start with community support,” Perkins said. “We have got to come together and make a cohesive effort to help these children succeed in school and graduate.”

The Georgia Department of Education reports the state graduation rate at 75.4 percent. Perkins maintains a more accurate picture comes from tracking 9th graders and looking at how many of them actually graduate. That number is much lower: 57.8 percent.

Emotions ran high as people talked about why they think kids are dropping out. Their observations differ from what you might hear from official sources:

  • Families need to get more involved.
  • Educators need more training to understand the neighborhoods that kids come from and the challenges they may be dealing with.
  • The community needs to be more aware of how bad the problem is.
  • Parents need support so they can help their kids with schoolwork.

“Kids come to the schools with problems,” said Tanya Lee Culbreth, parent liaison of B.E.S.T. Academy. “Teachers and administrators need to do more to learn about what’s going on in these kids’ lives because once those issues are put aside, a child can succeed.” Some said that when kids quit school they get into more trouble on the street.

Perkins wants to see policy changes that focus on helping younger children. “It’s been proven that by the age of three, 90 percent of a child’s brain function has been developed,” Perkins said. She advocates pre-kindergarten programs for 3-year-olds as well as after-school programs to boost student achievement.

The School Dropout Prevention Committee of Strengthening Families and Communities plans to propose new legislation and is looking for government support on two fronts: improving zero tolerance laws to further protect children and reforming federal and state funding programs to increase the number of quality after school curriculums.

The summit also looked at teen pregnancy prevention, youth violence prevention and financial literacy/economic development and how to get families more involved in helping children to be successful.