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Schools Fail to Educate at Least 30 Percent of Our Students

La Piñata

This program, with a budget about one-tenth the size of BCS, is the quintessential grassroots organization. It is the creation of one woman who has been running the organization for 19 years, Rosalba Solis. The program focuses on Latino families, which, over the years, have become Boston’s largest immigrant population — as well as its poorest. Latino youth have the lowest test scores and highest dropout rates in the city. They are the most at-risk for gang involvement, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression. The mission of the program is to use the performing arts as a means of advancing the self-esteem, self-confidence, leadership and other personal skills necessary for success in a challenging inner-city environment.

La Pinata is currently serving over 100 youth from more than 60 families. The most amazing statistic is that the program has zero dropouts. Nobody leaves! The program does much more than teach dance. It focuses on Latin American music and culture. It gives these youth an identity to be proud of and does it ever pay off. These students improve their school grades, they resist the dangerous temptations in their communities, they all graduate from high school, and many go on to college. In addition, many return to volunteer in the program. Is this a life-changing experience? Absolutely!

Maritime Apprentice Program (MAP)

This program, starting its fourth year, is operated by the Hull Lifesaving Museum which has been providing a range of job- and life-skills programs for 30 years. MAP works with the most challenging teen/young adult population: incarcerated youth who are released from jail and enter the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services program. MAP takes 20 new apprentices into the program each year. Currently all males, this youth represent the highest risk population in the city of Boston: 85 percent minority, 100 percent low income, 80 percent high school dropouts, 60 percent with major skill deficits (as many as 50 percent have 6th grade or lower academic skills), 80 percent live in non-parent, female-headed households, and the other 20 percent are in foster care. Mostly 18 to 20 years old, they are described as “deeply gang-involved high-impact players, the most disruptive force in the city, perhaps the most challenging to serve successfully.”

It is an intensive two-year program, with multiple training sites and involvement with unions and the Coast Guard. In addition to the complex skills and knowledge they must learn in MAP, they are also required to be enrolled in completing high school via a diploma or GED exam. They are taught not just the hard skills of building and repairing boats but the soft skills of attitude, comportment, communication, socialization, behavior on the job and appropriate clothing. Most important, they are taught that they are responsible for their behavior, not their circumstances.

Over 80 percent of the MAP participants have lost family members or friends to handgun violence during the past three years, most suffering multiple losses. Over half of the students have themselves been targets of shootings and knifings, with multiple hospitalizations and one fatality.

Knowing this, I was blown away to walk into a small workshop where a group of students were working on boat repair and boat construction projects. They were sociable and articulate. The students we talked to had hopes about a possible good future yet were very aware that they were always separated by just a thin line from danger when they left at the end of each day. It was hard to picture these same young men in the other worlds in which they have lived or currently live.

So far the program has achieved a 50 percent success rate as measured by program completion and obtaining a job (or, stated another way, not ending up back in jail). This is exceptional when compared to programs working with this same population.

While we were there, a former student who had a job on the waterfront just a few blocks away came to visit. He has a car and a condo. He is a model for the students to follow as are others, some of whom have come back to work in the program. In fact, the goal of MAP is for it to eventually be completely run by former students. That is likely to increase their success rate as new students will be able to identify with their teachers more quickly and build trust faster.

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Life-changing? Amazingly so!

Concluding Thoughts

While our public school systems slowly find ways to better serve this 30 percent lost American youth, programs like these are not waiting. They reflect an incredible commitment on the part of adults who care way beyond what most of us ever give to those who have less opportunity. It is a reminder of how much of a difference any of us can make, whether it be direct service or financial support or serving on boards. Hard to imagine anything more important than changing young lives for the better.

Schools Fail to Educate at Least 30 Percent of Our Students

Kalman Heller, PhD

Dr. Kalman Heller is a retired psychologist who ran a successful private practice. He previously wrote a monthly column for a local newspaper, and later took his "ParenTalk" column online. This article is reprinted from his online column with his permission.

APA Reference
Heller, K. (2018). Schools Fail to Educate at Least 30 Percent of Our Students. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.