Testimony Regarding An Act relative to Dropout Prevention and Recovery

An Act Relative to Dropout Prevention and Recovery and An Act Enhancing the Educational Outcomes of Expectant and Parenting Students.

May 12, 2015

Thank you, members of the Joint Committee on Education, for allowing me the opportunity to testify before you today. My name is Elena Sokolow-Kaufman and I am the Senior Manager of Government Relations and Field Resources at Mass Mentoring Partnership. Based in Boston, Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP) has been fueling the movement to expand empowering youth-adult relationships to meet the needs of communities across Massachusetts since 1992. I am testifying on behalf of the organization and the more than 250 youth-serving organizations statewide we partner with, supporting over 33,000 youth in mentoring relationships.

I am here today to join the collective call for a comprehensive dropout prevention and recovery bill that will help better meet the needs of struggling students in our educational system. We speak specifically in favor of the components of bills S251, H452, H423 and S260, that each builds additional student support into the fabric of schools in the form of graduation coaches and expectant and parenting student liaisons.

While there is no one singular reason that students choose to leave school or one singular solution for helping them stay the course, national research points to a need for greater adult support within schools as a means to help at-risk students finish. In the U.S. only 56 percent of students who have dropped out report that there was a school staff person they could go to about school problems and that only 41 percent said there was an adult at school who they could share personal problems with. More than three out of five students said their school needed to do more to help them with problems outside of class.[1] The use of graduation coaches in bills S251 and H452 and the expectant and parenting teen liaisons in bill H423/S260 will help address this lack of connection, as these individuals will be responsible for providing critical social-emotional support in addition to tailored academic counseling, as well as coordination with community based organizations that can offer further resources to students considering leaving school.

We believe that graduation coaches and expectant and parenting student liaisons are well positioned to build empowering youth-adult relationships with students as part of their overall role. They can be even more effective in their role if they fully understand this to be central to their work and receive additional training and support in relationship building with students. As the committee considers the various elements to be included in the state’s approach to this issue, we urge you to call out building empowering youth-adult relationships as part of the responsibilities of these positions and also build in training requirements around relationship building as well.

Because graduation coaches and expectant and parenting student liaisons will also be responsible for connecting these students to additional resources, we believe this will create another critical link between schools and the universe of community based youth service providers, including the field of youth mentoring programs and youth development programs. Formal, structured mentoring programs and youth development programs can be a larger part of this solution and are frequently already working in that regard. According to Mass Mentoring Counts, Mass Mentoring Partnership’s biennial statewide youth mentoring survey conducted by the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts, 78 percent of mentoring programs identify providing education and academic support as part of their intended impact, and 33 percent are functioning within schools.

Mentoring programs and youth development programs are uniquely positioned to address the persistent student achievement gap in the Commonwealth, as they serve youth who align with the subgroups that exhibit disproportionately high dropout rates, these being Hispanic, African-American, and low-income students. In Massachusetts, the majority of youth served with a formal mentor are ages 10 to 14 (32%) and Hispanic or African American (63%), with a quarter of youth matched with a mentor being high school students. Over 80% of programs in Massachusetts serve mostly youth from low-income families, with one-third of programs reporting most of their youth are the first generation of their family to go to college and/or are from single-parent households.

Again, on behalf of Mass Mentoring, I thank you for allowing me to testify today in support of deeply integrating empowering youth-adult relationships into the Commonwealth’s plan to address the needs of all of our students.

Thank you.