GEAR UP Partner Interview: Ruthie Bolton

We are proud to be partnered with Olympic gold medalist and former Sacramento Monarch Ruthie Bolton, who works with GEAR UP students at Valley High School in Sacramento. Ms. Bolton has been working with the team as they work through the AIM (Attitude In Motion) series and California GEAR UP Leadership Skills Initiative, both programs highlights character traits and works directly with students on motivation, anger management, discipline, perseverance, self-value, respect and accountability.

Ruthie was kind enough to sit down with us for an interview. Excerpts included below:

CGU: What inspires you?

RB: To see people happy and to help people discover their dreams and fulfill them.  To be able to help uplift others.  Then to get letters from people that I have inspired in turn inspires me.

CGU: What are some words of wisdom in achieving your dreams?

RB: Whatever dreams you have, go for them, pursue them and seek them out.  Don’t let people discourage you based on their perception of you.  It is what you think of yourself.  Sometimes what is on the outside is not all there is to a person.  It is what is on the inside what counts.  This is the message I give to students.  My mentor was my father and he was instrumental in me continuing in basketball even though the odds were stacked against me.  Empowerment and support from those around her encouraged her to continue.

CGU: What are some life experiences that have shaped who you are?

RB: The challenge of not being recruited out of High School.  I had to call Aubern University to ask if I could play for them.  Once I got there for try-outs, they thought I wouldn’t play until my Junior year.  I felt rejected and angry that they didn’t want me and I had to determine if it was worth it to continue to pursue my dream.  I chose to go to AU and ended up starting my Freshmen year.  This experience was the main one that changed me.  It told me about myself and the levels of courage and perseverance that I have.

CGU: How do you use these experiences in your role at Valley High School?

RB: It was my character, attitude, and work ethic.  I share this with kids through my AIM HIGH Program and the LSI Ladies at Valley.  Not always about the skills people have, but their attitude and persistence.  I want to be apart of their journey especially when they are at that crossroad.

CGU: Your involvement with GEAR UP at Valley working with the LSI ladies is inspiring.  Can you tell me what you enjoy the most about your work?

RB: Learning and becoming friends with the young ladies as well as being a mentor and a role model to them.  Some athletes feel pressured to be a role model, but it is rewarding to have them come to me and being able to share my experiences.

CGU: Why do you think it is important for students to start thinking about college as early as middle school?

RB: The earlier they get in their head the better.  They need lots of reinforcement.  One day the light will come on that college is important.  Their minds are like sponges and they need positive thoughts, especially when they get enough negative ones already.

CGU: Why is college important?

RB: When people see a degree, people know they know about responsibility, accountability, and discipline.  College teaches you about yourself and molds you.  The rewards of going to college are endless.

CGU: What are some tips for students struggling in high school?

RB: Surround yourself with people who can help you.  Ask your teachers for help, a classmate that is doing well in that class.  Ask questions, reach out, and utilize your resources at the school and on the internet.

Additional Thoughts: Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to and everyone gets to a breaking point, but don’t be so quick to say something is not for you.  Keep pushing and give your best.  Don’t live a life of resentment or regret.  Make everyday count because life is about quality.  Do something to make a difference in other’s lives.  I want to give every kid that I encounter HOPE.

Special thanks to Ruthie Bolton for taking time to speak with us for this interview. Look for Ruthie’s upcoming book ‘Ride of a Liftetime’ to be released early next year.

California Dropout Rates, Graduation Rates Increase

In a press conference yesterday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell released the annual report on graduation and dropout rates for 2008-2009 school year. 70.1 percent of public school students in California graduated from high school, up from 68.5 percent last year. The adjusted four-year derived dropout rate for the same school year is 21.7 percent, up from 18.9 percent last year.

When reviewed by subgroup statewide, the graduation and dropout rate data continue to highlight the achievement gap.

“The fact that our schools are operating today on $21 billion less than we had anticipated just three short years ago, I believe are contributing towards the drop out rate,” O’Connell said.

The 2008-09 data represents the third year of calculating student graduation and dropout rates by collecting student-level enrollment and exit data. Although this is the third year of using student-level data, this is the first year this data were collected through the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS). Right now the California Department of Education (CDE) is collecting the student-level exit data for the class of 2010 that will produce all four years of data necessary to transition from using aggregate rates to more accurate student graduation and dropout rates at the school level. By this spring, California will be able to calculate for the first time these longitudinal rates that are required by federal regulations.

As the data was released, many local school districts expressed concern about the validity of the software used to collect the data. Dublin, CA school district showed a 99.9 percent dropout rate, clearly an error of some kind since it is a mathematical impossibility.

San Diego Unified’s dropout rate appeared to jump to 23.5 percent in the 2008-09 year. That’s more than 2 1/2 times higher than the previous year’s dropout rate of 9.2 percent. The state acknowledged problems with the data for San Diego Unified and a few other districts. It’s unclear why some districts were informed of the dropout reporting guidelines while others were not.

With this new data, we are finally getting closer to telling the truth about how our schools are serving our students, especially students of color who now comprise the ‘new majority’ in our state. While the CDE has been using student-level data to calculate dropout and graduation rates for the last three years, this marks the first year these data were collected through CALPADS.  By next year, CALPADS is set to provide the most accurate student-level graduation and dropout rates the state has ever had in place.

From Ed Trust West blog post

O’Connell expressed “deep concerns” that California’s dropout rate increased from the previous year. But he said the increased graduation rates, especially among Hispanic students — up 4.9 percent since last year — offers encouragement that the state is making progress closing the achievement gap between some student groups.

To download state, county, district, and school graduation and dropout rates, please visit the CDE DataQuest Web site HERE.

When Minorities are the Majority.

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of The Education Trust West, contributed a recent open forum letter in the San Francisco Chronicle titled ‘When Minorities are the Majority.’  For the first time, Latinos students are the majority of California’s student population. Putting this demographic shift into an education perspective, Arun describes the transition from old notions of education policy and the potential impacts across the state of California.

Unfortunately, our political and educational systems have a long way to go before they catch up with the needs of the new majority.Too many California students fall through gaping holes in our college and career pipeline. On average, only six of 10 African American and Latino students graduate from high school. Last year, there were more Latino 12th-grade dropouts than Latino freshmen on a UC or CSU campus. For those African American and Latino students who get into our California State University system, less than four of 10 graduate in six years.

This article will certainly bring about renewed debate regarding race, ethnicity, and family engagement within the sphere of education. As Arun is quick to point out, this is not a ‘minority’ issue but rather an issue of framing the conversation around the old majority-minority paradigm and associated negative view of communities of color is not merely offensive, it’s downright dangerous and is does nothing other than continue to be a dis-service to our students.

The true heroes of California’s public schools are the children and their parents who desperately want a better future. What they need are courageous political leaders willing to grasp the scope of our demographic change and capitalize on the benefits of our students’ linguistic and cultural diversity in an increasingly globalized world…This means breaking free from the orthodoxy of both political parties – with public-employee unions on the left and taxpayer associations on the right, and shutting down the sideshow debates over charter schools or math pedagogy. It means finding Democrats willing to stand up to those teacher unions focused on meeting the demands of their longest-tenured members and Republicans willing to stand up to taxpayer associations that refuse to fund the educational needs of the new majority.

It means finding politicians of all stripes willing to focus on investing in the future of California instead of refighting the issues of the past.

It seems what he is asking is for us to adopt a new understanding of the political system that decides the most important aspects of our student’s education experience.

This supports the GEAR UP focus on middle schools and families in supporting their children as they transition to high school.  The next level of family engagement is political.  The leverage we all have over political decisions is our vote for our representatives.  Traditional family support organizations, with political representation systems already in place, are another avenue for family engagement.  As families formerly know as minorities become majorities, the potential for influencing policy and practice grows.

How can the potential become manifest?

-Don Watson, Ed.D, Watson Education Services

How difficult will it be support the new paradigm when the institutions are designed to resist them? Where do we start making the hard decisions? Who are these next generation of education leaders?