WILKES-BARRE — High school graduation rates are down and absenteeism is up, according to statistics released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and the United Way of Wyoming Valley wants to improve the situation.
Bill Jones, president/CEO of United Way of Wyoming Valley, believes education is one of the most influential factors in determining a child’s success. This Friday, in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and several local organizations, the agency will convene a GradNation Community Summit to explore innovative approaches to support young people in and out of school.
The GradNation event will be held from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Pocono in Plains Township.
“The GradNation Summit is about our community coming together to help create the conditions for our children to succeed,” Jones said. “Graduation rates are a key indicator of the health and well-being of a community. Over time, we can strengthen and improve the Wyoming Valley by increasing our graduation rates.”
Jones said the average school dropout costs society more than $800,000 during the course of a lifetime. He said the cost-benefit of implementing strategies to improve graduation rates are inexpensive relative to those costs and the loss of human potential.
“Family engagement is critical,” Jones said. “Kids will do better when families value the education of their children. A child might put on the cap and gown and receive a diploma, but it takes the whole family to get the child to his/her graduation day.”
Jones said graduation shouldn’t be viewed as a finish line; rather, he said, it is the starting line for success as an adult.
He urges people to attend the event to share perspectives and gain insight on how Wyoming Valley can better support students through high school graduation and beyond.
The summit will feature a keynote address from Dr. Leonard Sax, a physician board-certified in family medicine practicing in suburban Philadelphia who also holds a Ph.D. in psychology. He has authored four books on child and adolescent development.
Jennifer Deemer, vice president of Community Impact at United Way of Wyoming Valley, said the agency is taking major steps to reduce childhood poverty in Wyoming Valley and that includes focusing on high school graduation rates.
“Hosting this summit is a step towards first, creating the awareness, and second, understanding some of the root causes of dropouts,” Deemer said. “At this summit, we will identify issues we need to focus on, such as school readiness, family engagement, attendance and truancy and creating pathways from school to college or career.”
Deemer said going forward, the United Way will continue to work with community leaders and education experts to create solutions they hope will lead to increased graduation rates in the Wyoming Valley area.
Jones and Deemer said breakout sessions will include panel discussions on early childhood education, family engagement, early warning systems and career readiness.
The sessions will be led by experts representing local and statewide organizations. Hundreds of dedicated individuals, educators, business leaders and community organizations will come together to examine local data, identify best practices and address challenges in Wyoming Valley’s efforts to improve high school graduation rates and better prepare young people for success.