Boston City Councilors Move Forward With Proposal to Raise High School Dropout Age
The discussion was to increase the dropout age to 18 during a public hearing on Tuesday.
Villa Victoria residents offered heartfelt testimony at a City Council hearing on Tuesday to discuss raising the high school dropout age from 16 to 18, saying the current law makes it too easy for kids to hang out on the streets causing trouble.
“If you don’t have a kid in school, and they’re not old enough to get a proper job, what are they doing?” said Villa Victoria resident Shemika Carriere. “They’re staying home, they’re on the streets, they’re not doing anything. They’re just getting into trouble.”
At-Large District Councilor John Connolly and District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson filed a motion in May to raise the dropout age for Boston Public School students to 18, and are in the process of filing a home rule petition with the state that would allow Boston to test the initiative.
“Boston Public Schools were the first public school system founded in 1647,” said Jackson. “We again are ready to be a first.”
Support for the proposal came from all directions on Tuesday, including Boston Public School teachers and administrators and social workers specializing in at-risk youth. State Representative and BPS graduate Carlos Henriquez spoke in favor of the initiative as well.
In the 2009-10 school year, 1,100 high school students enrolled in Boston's public schools dropped out, joining a population that makes up 70 percent of the men and women incarcerated in the state of Massachusetts, Jackson said. Those who do not finish high school are far less likely to succeed professionally and in other aspects of their lives, he added.
Dorchester middle school teacher Neema Avashia said changing the law would go a long way toward keeping teenagers in school at a time when many disengage. At the middle school level, court involvement in the form of attendance officers and the threat of probation often provides the necessary pressures for students to stay in school, she said.
"The law matters, and can have a tremendous effect on student attendance," she said. "Presently our state law quits on young people at a time when they’re extremely vulnerable."
During her testimony, Carriere teared up as she recalled the recent violence that claimed the life of South End teenager Alex Sierra, a close friend. The suspects accused of killing Sierra were 16 and 17.
“I think this could have been avoided if kids would just go to school and get their education,” she said.
Carriere attended Tuesday’s hearing as a “living example” of a student who dropped out of high school after teachers told her she could do what she wanted once she turned 16. At her family’s urging, Carriere, now 20, attended alternative school and took night classes, making up enough credits to walk the stage in 2009 at Snowden International. Her two-month-old daughter was there when she graduated.
“Me ending up pregnant and having my child motivated me to get my diploma,” she said. “When I graduated, I was pretty disappointed to see the people that I grew up with not there. The number of diplomas passed out was really low.”
Carmen Barrientos, a fellow Villa Victoria resident, recalled her own daughter telling her she planned to quit school once she turned 16. She was just 11 years old at the time.
“She had four years to prepare to quit school,” Barrientos said. “When the city gives the kids an option to do this, to drop out, it limits the parent’s discipline actions, because now I’m not only fighting against my child to get her to high school but I’m also fighting with the city of Boston who says to my daughter, ‘Yes, you can drop out of school at 16.’”
Barrientos, who dropped out of school herself in the 7th grade, has seen first-hand how vital education is to building a career.
“I wanted to be a teacher or a social worker and I could not accomplish any of [that] because I dropped out of 7th grade,” she said.