Be Cool . . . Stay in School!

Be Cool . . . Stay in School!

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul

Be Cool . . . Stay in School!

In the eighth grade, I was student-body president of Erwin Middle School in Asheville, North Carolina. I considered this quite an honor since there were over 1,000 students in the school. At the end of the year, I was asked to make a speech at the ceremony where my class was promoted to high school. I knew this had to be more than just the brief comments a student might normally give. We’re the class of 2000, so I wanted my speech to be as special as we were.

I spent several nights lying in bed, thinking about what to say. Many things crossed my mind, but none of them involved all my classmates. Then one night, it hit me. Erwin High School has the highest dropout rate of any high school in our county. What better goal could we have than for every single one of us to graduate? What if I could get my class to become the first class in the history of our public school system to enter high school as freshmen and all graduate? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

The speech I gave on graduation day was only 12 minutes long, but what it started is unbelievable. When I issued the challenge to my classmates to become the first class in history to enter high school as freshmen and all graduate, the entire audience, including the parents, grandparents and teachers, erupted in applause. As I showed the personalized certificates and signs each student would get, I could tell they were really enthused. At the end of my speech the whole audience jumped to its feet with a standing ovation. It was all I could do to keep my composure and not break down and cry. I’d had no idea my challenge would bring this kind of response.

Throughout the summer, I worked on developing a program to carry our commitment into high school. I gave speeches to civic clubs and groups, and talked with several of my classmates. I told our high school principal that I wanted to start a “Dropout Patrol,” made up of students who would be willing to help and support other students during bad times. I told him I wanted to design a special shirt to identify members of our class and would like to sell these to make money to publish a class directory. Then I told him I thought it would be good if we could have some type of party to celebrate if we made it through a whole semester without losing anyone.

“I’ll go you one better than that,” he told me. “I’ll throw your class a party at the end of each grading period if you don’t lose anyone.” That was really exciting because a grading period was only six weeks: just 30 school days. The plan was beginning to come together.

Throughout the summer, word began to spread about our challenge. I appeared on local television and radio, the newspaper asked me to write a guest column and calls started coming in from everywhere. One day I received a call from CBS News in New York. One of their researchers had found my newspaper article and they were interested in featuring our class on their 48 Hours program. Ken Hamblin, the Black Avenger on national talk radio, featured us in his August 1996 publication, Ken Hamblin Talks with America. He invited me to appear on his show and tell the country about our commitment. All this was amazing, because I had told our class we could become the most famous class in America if we all made it to graduation. We were just beginning, and we were already drawing national attention.

As I write this story, our journey is just beginning. We have the first 12 weeks of school behind us. Our pledges are hanging in the school lobby across from the principal’s office. Across from them is a large glass case where we mounted a piece of sheet metal with a huge hourglass painted on it. In the top of the hourglass there is a round magnetic dot for each day we have remaining in high school. We have appointed a committee of “Dropout Patrol” members to monitor the hourglass. Each day they move a dot from the top to the bottom. This lets us track our progress in a way the entire class can watch. We began with 720 dots in the top, but now 60 of them have been moved to the bottom and we have earned our second party. It’s fun to watch the dots move.

We are just starting a difficult four-year journey, but we have already made a significant impact. Last year, by the end of the second grading period, 13 kids had dropped out of the freshman class. So far this year, not a single person who signed the pledge has quit, and the “Dropout Patrol” has become the largest organized group in the school.

Businesses are seeing what a program run completely by kids can do, and they are throwing their support behind us. We have banks, car dealers, furniture stores, restaurants and more where we can get discounts for our entire family when we show our “Dropout Patrol” ID cards. Others are donating U.S. Savings Bonds and merchandise that we use to reward kids for supporting our program.

The Erwin High “Committed Class of 2000” would like to encourage your class to start a program like ours. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the entire class of 2000, nationwide, had a 100 percent graduation rate? Who knows? Maybe it can!

Jason Summey, age 15

[EDITORS’ NOTE: You can contact Jason by writing to P.O. Box 16844, Asheville, NC 28816, or by calling (704) 252-3573.]

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