Last Thursday, we aired a special one-hour Chicago Tonight called “American Graduate” which looked at the truly troubling high school dropout rate (about 25% nationwide, about 35% in Chicago.) We had a live studio audience of students, educators, education experts, parents, etc. We also had several panels including one that featured a principal at Chicago’s Wells High School, Ernesto Matias. According to Matias, last year the dropout rate at Wells was 20% and this year it’s 13%.
One of the things that Matias and his colleagues do at Wells that might be helping lower the dropout rate: every morning each student is greeted by Matias or another educator with either a handshake or a hug. Each and every student. Makes a lot of sense. Why? Because the overriding theme we heard from students who had dropped out was that they did not feel connected to the school. Now a handshake or a hug may not increase test scores or guarantee that a student will do what it takes to graduate. But step one in any relationship is feeling a connection. Otherwise a relationship can be tenuous.
So hats off to Principal Matias and his staff for understanding the most basic component of a human relationship –the human touch that says something like, “I see you as a fellow human being and a person of worth.” We should all have that in our lives.
So to all the folks at Wells, I’d like to shake your hands myself. And may your graduation rate continue to improve.