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Letter: Failing at-risk youths?

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At the "Kids Count Coffee" Oct. 26, the attendees heard that there are homeless youth in our county. Youth means children 11 to teens 17!

I asked Willmar Senior Principal Rob Anderson about the only group that listed as "below acceptable graduation rates," those on free and reduced lunches, children living below, at or just above federal poverty levels. Anderson told me about a grant-supported program called SMART Club, which is making progress with at-risk youth, especially Hispanic and black youth. I was impressed when I met a woman working with program and glad this population is getting assistance.

Yet, my pleasure turned to dismay when a question about community support was met with the response "We will run the program as long as there is grant money," without any enthusiasm for building long-term support for this program through community support. Anderson did, however, assure me all WSHS students were welcome at SMART Club, which leads me to further question how these youth will get home after school if their parents cannot afford to pick them up, how students learn if they have no regular place to sleep or are hungry (it does happen!).

The Willmar free and reduced lunch student population is 38 percent of students, no small number. Additionally, while some of these students may participate in SMART Club, there is no plan to address this socioeconomic gap, either. This low graduation rate was first published in the Cardinal Courier about five years ago, and Principal Anderson assured me that the rate has "stayed about the same, with little improvement."

This information was confirmed on the Minnesota Department of Education website, where district students are not proficient in reading or math for only Hispanic and free and reduced lunch students! You can see the 2010 report card for yourself at http://education.state.mn.us.

As encouraging as Willmar High School reports are, their 2005-2010 poor performance in regard to underprivileged youth is appalling. Perhaps now, we can begin working on this failure to deliver services to our most vulnerable student population -- together.

Dianne Parker

Willmar

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