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UPDATE: Contempt Charges Dropped Against Texas Honor Student Diane Tran

Honor student Diane Tran, 17, was arrested and sentenced to 24 hours in jail and $100 dollar fine. Photo: CNN
Honor student Diane Tran, 17, was arrested and sentenced to 24 hours in jail and $100 dollar fine by a Texs judge. Photo: CNN

UPDATE, MAY 31: Following an intense public backlash, Texas Judge Lanny Moriarty dismissed contempt charges Wednesday against Diane Tran - a 17-year-old high school student punished last week for truancy.

Tran, an 11th grade student at the Houston-area Willis High School, spent 24 hours in a Montgomery County jail last week and was ordered to pay a $100 fine for excessive truancy, Houston’s KHOU-11 reports. Under Texas law, students are allowed to miss no more than 10 class days during a six-month window; reportedly, Tran had missed 18 days for that school year.

Following her parents’ separation, Tran has been financially supporting her siblings, working full time at a dry cleaning operation and performing part-time work as a wedding planner. Considered a legal adult under state law, Tran was warned about her absences - considered a misdemeanor offense within the state - by a judge in April.

Shortly after the news broke, Tran’s case became an Internet phenomenon, with numerous sites and organizations starting fundraisers and circulating petitions in support of the 17-year-old, according to the Huffington Post. One petition, on the site Change.org, has amassed more than 250,000 signatures. The site HelpDianeTran.com, a project started by the Louisiana Children’s Education Alliance, raised more than $100,000 in little under a week for a trust account in Tran’s name.

By signing the order, Judge Moriarity drops all contempt charges against Tran, who now can have her record expunged following the completion of proper paperwork.

May 26: A 17-year-old honor student was sentenced to 24-hours in jail and a $100 fine by a Montgomery County, Texas judge for missing too many classes, CBS Atlanta reports.

Judge Lanny Moriarty told CBS Atlanta he wanted to make an example of Diane Tran, saying "If you let one run loose, what are you gonna' do with the rest of 'em?"

Tran works two jobs in addition to taking advanced-level classes in an effort support herself and her younger sister after her parents split and left the teens to, basically, fend for themselves, she told CBS.

The full report and video interview are available on CBSAtlanta.com.

 

‘Drop Out Factories’ Decline, Nation Pushes for Graduation Benchmark

Drop out factories.

Since coined by a Johns Hopkins researcher working on high school dropout issues in 2004, that’s the name given to schools that lead our nation in dropout rates, graduating less than 60 percent of their students each year.

Around the country, half of the more than 1 million students that fail to graduate high school each year come from just 12 percent of the nation’s schools, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.

President Barack Obama, retired General Colin Powell and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, among others, have taken notice.

Since 1980, dropout rates around the United States have decreased – and graduation rates are up – but nearly one in four public school students still leave high school without a diploma. Broken down demographically, the chances of graduation can be even slimmer.

“Right now, 25 percent of all of our youngsters and 40 percent of our minority youngsters are not finishing high school with their peers,” General Powell said in the introduction to an annual report aimed at tracking the progress and challenges of ending the so-called dropout epidemic.

“This lack of high-quality education has dramatic consequences for individuals, society, the economy, and even our national security,” he said. “We cannot afford excuses.”

It’s an issue that, in 2009, drove President Obama to announce the Civic Marshall Plan – an ambitious, sweeping education plan to increase the country’s graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020 and elevate America to be the world leader in college placement.

Named after former Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s massive effort to transform war-torn Europe after World War II, it is nothing short of a vision to transform our nation’s educational system. To reach the first lofty goal, the nation’s graduation rate needs to improve 1.5 percent every year for the next decade.

So far only Wisconsin has hit the 90 percent benchmark, with Vermont, and a handful of others, not far behind.

Nationally, graduation rates have improved in the past decade, but not in every state. Ten states have witnessed a decline in graduation rates since 2001, according to the updated Building a Grad Nation report Powell introduced. Others still lag far behind.

At least eight states, predominantly in the South, still have graduation rates below 70 percent and hold some of the highest concentrations of drop out factories, according to the most recent Department of Education data.

The number of these drop out factory schools and the students attending them has continued to decrease over the past decade, with suburban and communities in the South seeing the most significant reduction. In more recent years, some urban areas have shown accelerated rates of improvement, but to meet the goals set by the Civic Marshall Plan there’s still much to be done, the report said.

The majority of drop out factories are located in poor urban and rural communities, predominantly in northern and western cities and communities throughout the South, according to a 2004 John Hopkins report.

This week, Secretary Duncan joined the leaders of City Year -- a non-profit dedicated to working with students around the country most at-risk of dropping out -- to announce the launch of a 10-year strategy that, they hope, will leverage the energy of the nation’s youth and provide a road map to urban graduation improvements in some of the nation’s most struggling communities.

“City Year proves that poverty is not destiny,” Secretary Duncan said at the announcement of the program in Washington. “Their work with children in struggling communities is providing the support needed to encourage and help students stay in school and be successful.”

They’re calling it the Urban Graduation Pipeline and, with the support of a $10 million pledge from long-time City Year supporters Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine, will begin to expand their work to more than 1,000 urban schools and 900,000 students at-risk of dropping out.

“We know if you move students to the 10th grade on time and on track they’re four times more likely to graduate high school on time,” said Shaun Adamec, vice president of communications with City Year. “So our strategy is to move students toward that benchmark so they can contribute to that 90 percent goal.”

The goal is a “continuum of support” for students in grades three through nine to keep them on track for graduation. City Year hopes to bring graduation rates in targeted schools up to more than 80 percent in the coming decade, graduating double the number of students in some schools.

At-risk students will get multiple years of intervention and support in school from City Year AmeriCorps staffers to improve attendance rates, develop positive social and emotional behaviors, and elevate academic performance.

“We are launching a Long-Term Impact strategy, which harnesses the talent and energy of City Year’s young leaders as a breakthrough solution for struggling urban schools,” City Year President Jim Balfanz said in an e-mail announcing the project. “Inspired by a vanguard of high-performing, high-poverty schools that have demonstrated success is possible, we believe national service is a new human capital strategy to advance proven reform strategies and directly support the students who need it most.”

City Year AmeriCorps members, college graduates between the ages of 18 and 24 who commit to a year of full-time service, work hand-in-hand with school administrators and teachers to identify the most at-risk students, place them on focus lists to track progress and dedicate time during the school day to work with the students one-on-one and in small groups.

“What makes it so unique is that they’re near-peer,” Adamec said. “The Corps members – simply because of their age, their energy and their idealism – can form a bond with the students in the school that others may not be able to.

“Because they’re able to get to the central reason of why students are getting in trouble, they are able to refer it up the chain of command and help that student out,” he said.

The announcement comes at a time when City Year has seen a groundswell of support from idealistic young professionals stepping forward to serve. Last year, the organization received half a million applications for just 80,000 positions, according to the Corporation for National Community Service.

Already operating in 23 cities around the United States, the Urban Graduation Pipeline expansion will soon place the organization in cities that account for two-thirds of the nation’s dropouts.

Ultimately, City Year is one of more than two dozen groups and non-profits committed to helping make the Civic Marshall Plan a reality.

Photo by Clay Duda | JJIE.org

Frequent Marijuana Use Among Teens is Up

A joint. JJIE file photo. Ryan Schill / JJIE.orgHeavy marijuana use among teens has increased drastically in recent years, with nearly one in 10 sparking up 20 times or more each month, according to a new survey of young Americans released this morning.

The findings represent nearly an 80 percent increase in past-month heavy marijuana use among high school aged youth since 2008.

Overall, the rate of marijuana use among teens has increased. Past month marijuana users, or teens that have used marijuana in the month prior to the survey, increased 42 percent, to 27 percent of teens, compared to 2008 findings. Past-year and lifetime use also increased, but not as drastically, at 26 percent and 21 percent respectively.

Marijuana use has not been this widespread among American teens since 1998, when the past-month usage rate hovered around 27 percent, according the survey conducted by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation.

“Heavy use of marijuana – particularly beginning in adolescence – brings the risk of serious problems and our data show it is linked to involvement with alcohol and other drugs as well,” Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org, said in a press release. “Kids who begin using drugs or alcohol as teenagers are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders when compared to those who start using after the teenage years.”

The use of marijuana is becoming normalized among teens, too, according to the survey of 3,322 teen-aged students in grades 9-12 and 821 parents. Seventy-one percent of teens said they have friends who use the drug, up 64 percent from 2008, and only 26 percent agreed with the statement, “in my school, most teens don’t smoke marijuana.”

Still, while the number of teens who have used marijuana in their lifetime is on the rise, less than half of high school aged students have actually used the drug. The rate of teens who disapproved of their peer’s use of the drug remained unchanged since 2008, with more than 60 percent disapproving of the practice – and 41 percent who said they “strongly disapprove.”

Heavy users  are drastically more likely to use other drugs such as cocaine, Ecstasy and prescription drugs, compared to their peers who reported not using marijuana in the past year, the report found.

Teen boys, especially Hispanic males, have led the increase in the past year. Heavy usage by teen boys usage increased at nearly twice the rate of their female counterparts. Hispanic high school males are more likely to have used marijuana in the past year compared to their peers. Fifty percent reported using the drug in the past year, compared to 40 percent of black and 35 percent of white teens.

“The latest findings showing an increase in marijuana use among teens is unsettling and should serve as a wake-up call to everyone in a position to prevent unhealthy behavior,” said Dennis White, President and CEO of MetLife Foundation, who contributed to the report. “While it may be difficult to clearly understand just how dangerous marijuana use can be for teens, it is imperative that we all pay attention to the warning signs and intervene anyway we can.”

The findings are part of the 23rd annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, a yearly gauge of teens’ and parents’ attitudes toward issues that affect their lives.

 

Photo credit: Ryan Schill/JJIE

Cheating Scandal Prompts New SAT and ACT Security Measures

In the wake of an embarrassing cheating scandal involving at least 20 Long Island, N.Y., high school students, the makers of the SAT and ACT college entrance exams are tightening rules nationwide. Significantly, students will now be required to provide a photograph when signing up for the tests that officials will check against student identification on testing day.

The SAT and ACT are used by virtually every American college when making admissions decisions.

Last fall, the Nassau County District Attorney charged five teenagers with taking the tests for other students and accused 15 others with paying them $500 to $3,600 to take the tests, The New York Times reports. As many as 50 students may have been involved, the district attorney, Kathleen M. Rice, told the Times.

According to Rice, the changes are meant to send a message to others who might consider cheating.

“They will be caught, and they will be held accountable,” she told The Times. “The old system did not ensure that.”

Students will be required to upload or mail in their photograph and the image will be printed on their admission ticket. Proctors will compare the printed photograph with photo identification presented the day of the test, as well as the student’s actual face.

The new photo requirement, along with other changes, will take effect in the fall.

Grants for Chemistry Teachers With Innovative Ideas

American Chemical Society will be awarding grants of up to $1,500. The ACS-Hach High School Chemistry Grant is awarded to U.S. high school chemistry teachers to support ideas that transform classroom learning, foster student development and reveal the wonders of chemistry.

Applications are accepted annually February 1 – April 1. Applicants for the 2012-2013 award cycle will be notified of their status by June 30, 2012. 

In the past, awards have been given for laboratory equipment, instructional materials, professional development and field studies.

 

Hurtful Words in the Hallway, Sexual Harassment in High School

It was a normal day at school when I asked a friend if he could tell my teacher that I would be late to class while I grabbed something from the library.

“Oh, I’ll tell her you’re off having sex with all those guys.”

This was my friend. It was a disrespectful comment, but I brushed it off. He was known as a bit of a comedian, but I knew he considered me a nice girl.

It wasn’t until I walked away that I heard another voice say, “Because it’s likely.”

We’re taught that sexual harassment is an often violent and deplorable act found in the workplace or on the street. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This phenomenon is hitting the nation’s high schools in alarming ways. In recent years the lines between insults, bullying and sexual harassment have become increasingly blurred. Teens are rude to each other, calling out “Hey slut!” in the hallways at school and comparing their bodies to others’.

About two years ago, I was introduced to what I now understand to be sexual harassment. I was called a slut and a whore. People I didn’t even know were making judgments about me. If I wore high heels to school, they were “stripper heels.” If my skirt was a bit too short, someone made a comment about my sexuality. Everyday I was being called out, not as a human being, but as a sexual being.

When I told someone about it two years later, I realized what was happening to me. Before, I felt that sexual harrassment was an extreme phrase; it was a term closely related to sexual assault and rape. I certainly was not being bullied in a way that was in the same category as rape. People were mean to me; that was it. I felt bad about myself.

This form of bullying might not have gotten to me, had I not started to believe what was being said. This was my downfall, my ultimate mistake. The repetition of insults flung my way destroyed me, until even a single look from an attacker would leave my confidence shattered. I would be left shaking after being around someone I knew could abuse me. I wouldn't talk around them in case they decided to spring an insult on me around my friends. I didn’t want to walk down the hallways if I was wearing a dress, because I felt that everyone I passed would be thinking about how much of a slut I was.

It didn’t help that my peers didn’t view the bullying in the same way I did. They weren’t targeted all the time, and they didn’t know how it felt. They thought they were unnecessary insults and cruel comments but did not classify the comments as sexual harassment. No, that’s a big accusation. The general attitude was: Save sexual harassment for when someone is in danger of being physically assaulted, but don’t go messing around with saying a high school bully is sexually harassing someone.”

My friends telling me to brush it off only made it worse, because I felt that it was meaningless advice. I felt that I was brushing it off. I was doing nothing about it. They also didn’t know how it felt, and I think they couldn’t identify with the image I had of myself because of the constant insults. Brushing it off was part of what allowed the problem to occur and then fester. Passively handling the situation allowed it only to escalate to a breaking point.

So, after having a panic attack in school one day after being called names, I told my counselor. I had been contemplating suicide and felt that I had reached the lowest point ever. I needed to tell someone who would help. I needed my situation to change, or I would no longer be able to attend the same school. Telling her, I felt like a rat. But she fully respected my wishes in how I wanted to handle the situation, with the understanding that some action had to be taken. The people who were causing my distress got help to understand what was going on. They were not punished. I guess you could call it therapy, and my school made sure to handle the situation with sensitivity and with as much respect to both sides as possible.

However, for the amount of time that the people who disrespected me had to undergo therapy, I will be in therapy for an infinitely longer time. I now have to repair the way that I think about my actions and myself. I have to learn to forgive myself and believe that I deserve respect from my peers. I have to learn to use my voice when I feel that I am not getting respect and learn how to be confident again.

My advice to anyone who can identify with what happened to me is use your voice. Tell someone who can help, and it doesn’t have to be a counselor or a therapist. It could be a friend who can stick up for you. There are also organizations ( No Place for Hate for example, is in Atlanta, New York, St. Louis and a dozen other places around the country) that encourage positive school environments.

But it is crucially important to always know that the situation can change. There is always something you can do about being bullied at school, and no one should ever have to deal with being disrespected on matters that are so intensely personal.

The writer attends school in Atlanta.

This piece originally appeared in VOX Teen Communications’ newspaper. Read more and weigh in on stories written by and for Atlanta-area teens at voxrox.org, or write a letter about this story to editor@voxrox.org.

Ty Cobb On Safe Schools for LGBT Youth

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth across America are facing a crisis in the juvenile justice system as a result of harmful discrimination in their homes, schools and communities. Recent studies demonstrate that continued harassment of LGBT youth in their schools place them at a higher risk for involvement with the system. LGBT youth are more likely to skip school to avoid victimization and in the process face truancy charges. Additionally, other LGBT students end up in the system on assault or disorderly conduct charges after they try to defend themselves against bullying by their classmates. In other instances, LGBT youth are disproportionately targeted by school officials for punishment, often referring them to juvenile court for conduct that is more appropriately handled in school. These experiences unnecessarily prolong the involvement of LGBT youths in the juvenile justice system and often expose them to more restrictive dispositions. In an effort to reduce the number of LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system, more must be done to combat discrimination and harassment in schools.

Schools should be a safe haven for all students as well as a welcoming environment where opportunities are not limited by a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity. However, recent events, including an agreement between a California middle school and the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education (OCR) and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), demonstrate that not enough is being done to protect LGBT youth in schools. The agreement between the California middle school and the government agencies followed a complaint from a parent whose 13 year-old gay son committed suicide following chronic sex-based harassment by his peers. The agreement requires the school to research, develop and implement policies that educate students and staff regarding the harmful effects of harassment, as well as educate staff regarding the proper investigation and means of eliminating such harassment. While the result of this agreement is commendable, it raises several disturbing issues relating to the treatment of LGBT youth in schools.

First, while school districts should already be engaged in creating a positive school climate where all students are afforded equal educational opportunities, some are not. Second, as OCR and DOJ made clear in the agreement, they do not have the power to investigate and make recommendations to prohibit harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The government is limited by statute to addressing only sex discrimination, as there is no federal statute prohibiting harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, while an enforcement mechanism exists to regulate harassment and discrimination in schools, it is not explicit about doing so to protect LGBT youth. Consequently, LGBT youth continue to be at risk for harassment and discrimination in school, which subsequently increases their risk of entering the juvenile justice system. This devastating chain of events can be stopped if federal legislation, such as the Student Non-Discrimination Act, is passed.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act, which is pending in the House and Senate, would prohibit schools from discriminating against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, it would prevent discrimination against any public school student because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of a person with whom a student associates or has associated. With passage of this legislation, government organizations such as OCR and DOJ would have the authority to investigate and make recommendations to prohibit harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Such tools would make a significant contribution to ending harassment and bullying of LGBT youth in schools and could ultimately help reduce the number of LGBT youth that find themselves in the juvenile justice system.

Enjoy the opinion? Check out JJIE's series on LGBT issues:
["Accepting Me: LGBT Stories of Struggles, Discoveries and Triumphs"]

 

Grant offers Kids Learning Labs in Libraries and Museums

The MacArthur Foundation is offering a grant designed for Learning Labs in Libraries and Museums for middle and high school kids. This grant will help fund the planning and designing of 30 Learning Labs in libraries and museums throughout the country. These labs will be designed to help kids learn through digital and traditional media. The deadline for this grant is August 15, 2011.

Eligibility: Libraries or parent organizations, academic or administrative unit/library consortium, library associations, nonprofits and units of state or local governments.

 

AT&T Offers Grant to Stop the Drop-outs

 

AT&T is offering a grant to help stop high school kids from dropping out of school. Statistics indicate that one out of three public high school kids don’t graduate. The company's grant is focused on helping reduce this statistic and help inspire kids to want to graduate. The grant has a rolling deadline.

Op-Ed: Danielle Chapman Recaps Her Hard Fight Against OxyContin

Kyle’s journey is a clear representation of the life of an addicted teen.

The pressure to fit in and be a part of something in high school is overwhelming and a popular and growing method of escape is drug-use. Coming from a Cobb County high school where drugs were everywhere, I can relate completely to Kyle’s struggles because I was also an OxyContin addict.

I dealt with the same battles, guilt and remorse that come with drug addiction. Once I had starting using, I was powerless. I couldn’t stop, I lost all will-power. I can relate with Kyle and his family; I have seen the exhaustion and heartbreak addiction can cause. Yes, a supportive family helps tremendously in the process of rehabilitation, but no support will keep an addict sober. To stay sober, that is the decision of the addict.

I can clearly remember my many attempts to get clean, but it was always the same. After three or four days, I wouldn’t be able to stand the withdrawals any longer and would go back to using. I was no match for this pill that is mainly prescribed to cancer patients.  In the depths of my addiction, I felt as if no one could ever understand what I was going through. I felt as if I could never break the grip this addiction had over me. I felt as if my addiction had become a part of my identity, of who I was.

I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

Just like Kyle, I went to an in-patient rehabilitation center (it is not absolutely necessary for addicts to go to treatment to stay sober -- I have seen many do it without treatment). But for me, it was my best option.  I had hit such a low bottom that I was ready and able to get sober.

I wanted to be able to wake up in the morning and go about my day without desperately needing the help of narcotics. I wanted to be able to live life the way it is intended to be lived, drug-free.  I realized that if I wanted to achieve long-term sobriety I had to change my thinking.

Like Kyle, I was trying to numb myself to any feelings I didn’t want to feel.

In treatment, I began recognizing some of the deep-rooted reasons I couldn’t be alone inside my head. I was convinced I would never be able to listen to my thoughts. After recognizing my issues and going through intense therapy, I am able to sit with myself and be at peace. I no longer feel the need to suppress my feelings with drugs or alcohol.

My mental obsession and addiction has been removed as long as I continue to put the necessary work into my recovery. I have realized, after some sobriety, that it doesn’t matter if you want sobriety, it doesn’t matter if you need sobriety, it just matters if you work for your sobriety.

There is a popular phrase with most recovering alcoholics/addicts, “It works if you work it,” and in my case that is 100 percent true.