By Roderick Wheeler, Senior Program Director, Philanthropy, Strada Education Network
Although the high school dropout rate has declined significantly since the 1990’s, each year more than 1.2 million U.S. students continue to leave high school with no diploma. As a result, approximately 7,000 students each day are giving up short of earning the most critical educational credential necessary for their future success.
It’s well documented that many high school dropouts face immense challenges throughout their lives. They earn less than high school graduates. They experience higher rates of unemployment, poverty and incarceration. They have much lower rates of labor market participation — in 2014, 41 percent compared with 73 percent for high school graduates.
Since 2003 an Indiana school has demonstrated significant success in getting struggling students, or those who have already dropped out of high school, across the finish line to their diplomas. Rob Staley, the founder of The Crossing School of Business and Entrepreneurship (formerly known as the Crossing Educational Center), sought to address the dropout challenge in his community by creating a state-accredited, faith-based, private alternative school that partners with public school districts to graduate their students who are struggling most, even if they already have dropped out of high school.
Staley, a former Indiana high school principal, says the impetus behind founding The Crossing came from some of his former students. “I would visit students I had expelled and who were now in jail and ask them why school did not work for them,” he says. “I would learn that they did not feel like they belonged or that school was relevant to helping them earn a living.”
As a result, Staley created an innovative school that seeks to empower struggling students to become contributing members of their communities through academics, job training and faith-based character education. His vision for The Crossing was to transform lives of young people through education, by focusing on both the heart and mind.
The Crossing model is designed to engage students as they develop their academic and job-preparedness skills. Half of the students’ time is devoted to earning academic credit. The Crossing uses technology-assisted blended learning and supportive student services to help students to master the required academic content for Indiana’s non-waiver diploma. The other half of the students’ time is spent in job preparedness training; the students are exposed to the world of work through the business development component of the job training program.
The business development course is a credit-bearing course that uses project-based learning, an experiential learning curriculum, and various industry-recognized certifications that prepare students to launch micro-businesses. The curriculum allows students to understand real-world business skills and principles by understanding how to operate and run an actual micro-business.
Students develop their skills in business plan development, marketing, profit and loss statements, and sales. Upon completion of the course, students are assigned to work teams and placed in local businesses. The ultimate goal is that students will become members of the workforce pool and be directly employed by a host company upon earning their high school diplomas.
The Crossing began with one campus, six students and two teachers. Today, it has grown to 25 locations, serving more than 2,000 students and employing approximately 160 staff members. It has contracts with 55 public schools. In the past four years, The Crossing has graduated 635 students, and nearly 80 percent have earned Indiana’s Core 40 diploma, without any special consideration. Among all of The Crossing’s graduates, more than 80 percent are either working or pursuing additional postsecondary education opportunities.
By partnering with public school districts to help them outsource their alternative education and dropout prevention programs, The Crossing also has found a strong collaborative business model that supports the organization’s financial sustainability and allows it to grow and advance its mission.
Strada Education NetworkSM is pleased to support The Crossing with a philanthropic investment to help expand the entrepreneurial and micro-business development program that prepares students for internship opportunities and entry-level jobs following high school.
With more than 5 million disconnected youth and young adults age 16-24 who are not in school and not working, our nation needs more programs like The Crossing that seek to re-engage students and prepare them for workforce opportunities and greater success in life.