We know that our job doesn't end when a student leaves WSG. Since our first graduating class moved on to high school in 2001, we have provided support for each student as she pursued her high school diploma. Currently, 99% of our graduates have earn their diploma or G.E.D, and 70% of those have gone on to higher education. This is truly remarkable: less than 50% of their peers graduate high school. Our Graduate Support program provides personalized guidance to each student, including collaboration with her family as well as her current high school teachers and administrators. This guidance helps our graduates stay focused on completing high school and gives them the support they need as they navigate the many obstacles that are presented during the challenging adolescent years.
Recently, Pamela Johnson, Chair of the Board of WSG sat down with Ms. Kim Hopwood, the Director of Student Life and Graduate Support to learn about the impact of the Graduate Support program. Here are a few excerpts from that conversation.
Pam: When do you start talking to students about high school?
Kim: As soon as they walk through the door. Here at WSG it is all about changing expectations: many girls come from families where graduating from high school is not a priority. We have to help parents think proactively about choosing a school that is the best fit. By enrolling their child at WSG, parents are just starting to realize that they have this choice.
Pam: Why is Graduate Support important?
Kim: Our girls live in a neighborhood where the high school graduation rate is less than 50%. It is easy to lose sight of your goals when half of your peers get off track. Our girls need to know they have someone to turn to who can support them when it gets hard.
Pam: How do you help girls and their families through the process?
Kim: We kick into high gear in the 7th grade. Students take a high school prep course, we hold annual career days and host guest speakers throughout the year - all designed to give the students a glimpse into high school, college, and beyond. Then we guide them through high school applications, charter school lotteries, financial aid applications, and enrollment.
Pam: Tell me about the challenges our graduates face in high school.
Kim: There are so many: larger, less intimate schools and classrooms where they must be more self reliant; new social groups; increased pressure to perform on standardized tests; peers who may be drinking alcohol or using drugs; peers who may be involved in gang activity; risk of pregancy; or simply getting lost in the system.
Pam: How do you help them make the right choices?
Kim: We stay in very close contact with our graduates as well as their counselors and teachers- by working with their new school, we can often troubleshoot issues before they completely derail the student. I give each graduate my cell phone number so they can reach me any time (and I mean any time.) Sometimes our girls just need to talk to someone they trust, who can help them work through the problem they are facing. Sometimes they need a more dramatic intervention. Either way, we’re here for them.
Pam: What do WSG students do after high school?
Kim: Our graduates are showing an increasing trend in attending colleges and we are thrilled about that. Overall, 76% of our graduates have gone on to some form of subsequent training or education: we have graduates enrolled in 4 year colleges, 2 year colleges, certificate programs and the military. Beyond that, they enter the work force and pursue their goals, whatever those goals may be.
Pam: What is one way you could expand or improve the program?
Kim: There are so many forces working against our girls in their everyday lives. One alum couldn’t really afford her bus fare to school, so she consistently missed the last week of school each month while she waited for her mother’s paycheck. Another graduate was accepted at a boarding school where I am certain she would have excelled, but due to trouble at home, her family wouldn’t pay the deposit. I wish I had more funding to meet those needs.
Pam: You’ve been at WSG for 8 years. What keeps you here?
Kim: Getting those emails and text messages from students telling me that something has clicked or fallen into place for them. That little nugget of hope inspires me to stay in the trenches for the ones who haven’t gotten there yet.