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At-Risk to Success Story: PBS Frontline Highlights One Student’s Path to High School Success

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July 10, 2014 05:47 pm


The nation’s goal to reach a 90 percent high school graduation rate by the Class of 2020 is right on track, according to a 2013 report from Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education. Still, graduation rates for students of color continue to lag behind those of their white peers. But what if there were red flag behaviors in academic performance that could help educators set these statistically low-income students of color students on the right path?  And what if that steering could start as early as sixth grade? For some students, it has.

Omarina’s Story, set to air as part of PBS Frontline: Separate and Unequal on Tuesday, July 15 at 10 p.m. EST, revisits the story of Omarina Cabrera, a girl from the Bronx who was once a student at risk of dropping out, but now excels at an elite New England prep school after her teachers intervened with an experimental program based on recognizing and correcting behaviors that lead students to not complete high school.

Cabrera was first featured in 2012 on the PBS broadcast, Middle School Moment, as a struggling student at risk of not completing her education. Recognizing this, Cabrera’s teachers took on the challenge guiding her academically, using findings from Robert Balfanz, research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University and member of the Alliance’s Secondary School Improvement Advisory Group, as a guide.


In 2005, researchers at the Philadelphia Education Fund in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University uncovered risk factors displayed students in Philadelphia that could predict their future high school performance. This risk factors were attendance below 80 percent, poor behavior, a failing math grade, and a failing English grade leaves students with just a 10 percent chance of graduating high school on time. Balfanz said these risk factors cause students to fall behind in overtime they fail to keep up academically.

“If a 6th grade child in a high-poverty school is absent more than 20 percent of the time, or fails math or English, or receives an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course, there is a 75 percent chance that they will drop out of high school—unless there is a decisive intervention,” Balfanz tells FRONTLINE. “Even kids in the most dire circumstances really want a future. They just need to have a path to it.”

Educators who act on the ‘make-or-break’ moment for academic achievement in high school, Balfanz added, could mean brighter futures for at risk youths just like Cabrera,  – who just finished her sophomore year.

Watch the trailer for FRONTLINE: Separate and Unequal by clicking the embedded link below.


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