The Long Road to Higher Education

By: Yasmeen Smalley

Minority students in Rochester may be at a disadvantage for high school graduation, according to the 2010-2011 New York State Report Card.

Rochester Superintendent Bolgen Vargas ran on a platform of collaboration, communication and raising high school graduation rates. And while high school graduation rates are rising in Rochester, as well as nationwide, Vargas says there’s still a lot of work to be done, especially for minority students.

Vargas himself was a minority student, and attended high school in New York, where he only spoke Spanish. Vargas beat the odds and graduated high school, but other minority students may not be as lucky.

The “Building a Grad Nation” report, which was published in February, cites rising graduation rates for most high school students, but not all. Minority students’ graduation rates lag “well behind their white peers,” and students with a limited grasp on the English language lagged even farther behind.

Many factors play into graduation rates for students, according to Nicolas Sawicky, a high school substitute teacher in Rochester. Many students in Rochester don’t have support from home, or aren’t able to do homework or study because they have to take care of younger siblings, said Sawicky in an email interview. And when it comes to the difference between graduation rates of urban and suburban schools, he says the difference is “night and day.”

A quick comparison of urban and suburban schools showed that Pittsford-Mendon High School, a suburban school, had a graduation rate of 100 percent in the 2010-2011 school year, while James Monroe High School, located in the city, had a graduation rate of only 36 percent during the same year. Pittsford-Mendon High School is composed of 89 percent white students, while James Monroe High School is composed of 34 percent Black or African American students, and 59 percent Hispanic or Latino students. James Monroe’s high school graduation rates from 2011 show that for minority students, only one out of every 3 students graduates.

The disparity between graduation rates of different ethnicities is also apparent in suburban schools. Athena High School, located in the Greece Central School District, is a high school well known for academic success. That success however, is not evenly distributed among its students. White students make up 80 percent of the student population, and enjoy a 90 percent graduation rate. Black and African American students make up 14 percent of the student population, and only have a 70 percent graduation rate, a percentage that falls under the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) percentage.

Yasmeen's Story

Credit: Yasmeen Smalley

(Data from New York State Report Card Accountability and Overview Report for 2010-2011 year)

Shavonne Jones, an African American student attending Genesee Community College and a recent graduate of Athena High School, recalled her difficulties in high school. “Math has been a really big struggle for me. I also took chemistry in high school and didn’t pass. I didn’t worry about it because I didn’t think I would have to take it again, but now I’m taking it in college, and I wish I paid more attention in high school.”

Jones also lamented a lack of college preparation from high school teachers. “I could have used more preparation. College is the next level, and much more difficult than high school. Teachers teach the ones that want to learn, but they don’t teach the people that aren’t as attentive, and so they struggle.”

If students are able to beat the odds and graduate from high school, they face new challenges in college. Like Jones, many students struggle with math and science, and are forced to play catch-up with difficult subjects in college.

Assistant Vice President of Rochester Institute of Technology’s Student Learning, Support and Assessment Office Dr. Nicole Boulais said in an email interview that many students seek assistance not only in math and science, but also with developing study skills. “These skills range from time management and organization skills, to goal setting and motivation, to more specific areas such as managing test anxiety or note-taking techniques.” Dr. Boulais also advised students preparing for college to know their strengths and weaknesses, and to understand their habits and motivations.

Jones had a simple message for teen students considering college: “Pay attention! Absorb all you can absorb, become friends with teachers in college and network. Stay focused, it matters.”

About the Author: Yasmeen Smalley is a recent graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology and is a professional blogger. She has had articles featured on Democrat and Chronicle’s Flavor blog, as well as City Newspaper‘s college blog. Her passions include scuba diving and underwater photography. Her work can be found online at or via Twitter: @yasmeensmalley.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: Guest Posts


I absolutely love to write! I am a Journalism and Political-Science Dual-Degree at Rochester Institute of Technology. I hope to inspire all of my readers to better their own lives and to be proactive in their communities. There is nothing more important, or more rewarding, than giving back!


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: