by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, August 2015) On June 30th, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland held a graduation party for seniors who graduated from high school this past year. The West Side Boys and Girls Club, located on Trowbridge in the Clark Fulton neighborhood, participated in the graduation party. According to Gaelen Bell, Vice President for Social Marketing and Public Relations for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, twenty-seven out of thirty high school seniors that were members of the West Side Boys and Girls Club graduated this year for a 90% graduation rate.
One of the seniors, from the West Side Boys and Girls Club, was named the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland 2015 Youth of the Year, Timmeesha Jackson. Bell says Jackson is a graduate of the Cleveland School of the Arts and plans to attend the University of Akron. According to Bell, most of the other graduates from the West Side Boys and Girls Club plan to attend Cuyahoga Community College. She says, “They are looking at the economics of going to a two-year program and transferring to a four year school.”
According to Bell, 55 schools are represented in the membership of the West Side Boys and Girls Club. Schools represented include: Cleveland School of the Arts, John Hay, Lincoln West, James Ford Rhodes, East Tech, St. Joseph Academy, Scranton, Walton, Horizon Academy and many others.
Bell says Boys and Girls Clubs in Cleveland are much more than an after school hangout. “They are driven by the goal of keeping all Club members on track for graduation, all school year long,” she said. Bell noted that the effort is bucking the trend in Ohio where there is in an increase in the number of schools that she called, “high school dropout factories.” (schools where 60% or fewer of the students graduate each year) “In 2002,” she said, “Ohio had 75 dropout factories; by 2012 that number had grown to 142: 2015 numbers will most likely show an increase,“ she said.
In its 2014 annual report, the West Side Boys and Girls Club claimed a membership of 593 youths. Bell says on an average day at the club, 91 members are in attendance with almost fifty being teens. Out of the 593 members in 2014, 327 participated in the Academic Success programs, 561 participated in Good Character/Citizenship Programs, and 472 participated in Healthy Lifestyle programming, according to the annual report.
Bell said, “Our students are actively engaged and this location is a center for dance, arts and baseball. During the summer, in all locations, we are providing academic success programming called Brain Gain, whose aim is to stem summer learning loss. There are daily project based learning activities for three different age groups, 6-9, 10 – 12 and teens.”
President of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland Ron Soeder says the Boys and Girls Clubs “provide a supportive, safe place to go, and give kids a chance to be kids.” Soeder says the activities of the clubs offer youths a chance to experience things they never would get a chance to otherwise.
Soeder said the clubs also provide some youths with employment opportunities. He says the clubs hire junior staff members that work eight to ten hours per week during the school year helping to staff the clubs. In addition, in the summer time some youths are hired through the Youth Opportunities Unlimited program and work from 10 to 20 hours per week.
The State of Ohio now uses a four-year and five-year graduation rate – counting the number of ninth grade students that graduate in four years or five years. Those numbers tend to be much lower than the number of seniors starting their senior year that graduate. For example, the State of Ohio lists Lincoln West High Schools’ four-year graduation rate at 49.8% and its five-year graduation rate is 50.6%.
Soeder says the Boys and Girls Club are only able to count graduates from among the current year’s seniors. He says the last time data was available from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District for the number of seniors that graduated in a given year was 2012. In that year, 81% of seniors starting the school year graduated. With their 90% graduation rate, the seniors at the West Side Boys and Girls Club best that mark.