A school serving an economically depressed area has found that a highly charged science and tech focus results in an increased graduation rate
Trevor Greene had an idea that changed how studies are done at his school when he was staring into a bin filled with cow eyeballs..
While touring the slaughterhouse across the road from Toppenish High School as part of an agriculture class he realized that science teachers at his high-poverty school might be able to use the leftover body parts for their new biomedical courses.
At the time, in 2011, Toppenish in Yakima County was in the midst of a five-year overhaul, transforming itself from a dropout factory, where only 19 percent of students passed state algebra exams, into a regional model for science and technology education.
Today, most of the school’s 830 students — all of them low-income — have taken courses in engineering, biomedical science or aerospace. Enrollment in advanced math has tripled. And the four-year graduation rate is 94 percent — a figure enviable even among the state’s most privileged districts.
Measured by socioeconomics, Toppenish has never met that definition. Half of the district’s parents never graduated high school.
Toppenish’s results — which came largely through replacing less popular electives like journalism and photography with technology-intensive classes — cannot be attributed entirely to a supercharged curriculum.
At the same time that it added engineering and biomedical sciences, the school reorganized into old-fashioned homerooms that brought each student into daily contact with the same teacher from ninth through 12th grade. A graduation specialist tracked credits and intervened fast when kids got off track.
Yet considering Washington’s low graduation rate for minority students and how poorly the state ranks in tech-oriented education overall, Toppenish stands out as a case study that is hard to ignore.
Statewide, only 42 percent of eighth-graders were proficient in math last year, and fewer than half of high-school graduates had the necessary credits to get into a four-year college.
Nationally, only 30 percent are even ready for college-level work in science. China and India, meanwhile, are graduating engineers at triple the U.S. rate.