Despite Syracuse graduation rate increase, immigrant students continue to struggle at school

Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor

Syracuse had a 60.9 percent graduation rate in 2016, but the rate was lower for immigrant students. In the photo above, Refugee students from Nottingham High School participated in the "We Are Syracuse" event at Huntington Hall.

While the Syracuse city school district’s graduation rate was above 60 percent last year for the first time in a decade, Hispanic and Latino students in the city only had a 48 percent graduation rate, according to a recently published report.

Syracuse had a 60.9 percent graduation rate in 2016, up from 54 percent in 2015, according to statistics released by the New York State Department of Education.

“We have worked diligently to improve the conditions in our schools,” Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said in a statement. “… I look forward to continued progress in our city schools.”

In comparison, graduation rates for other large upstate city school districts like Buffalo and Rochester are 61.7 percent and 47.5 percent, respectively.

Susan Boyle, a Syracuse Common Councilor, said the increase is a good sign for Syracuse city schools, but added that she was not surprised with the results because graduation rates for the city’s school district have been steadily increasing for several years.

The DOE report showed that nearly every racial group in the state has made progress over the last year, with graduation rates hitting above 60 percent. But in Syracuse, the Hispanic and Latino population has lagged behind.

Boyle said this achievement gap in Syracuse is because of a large proportion of immigrant students who are working to break through language barriers.

“When you are new to a country or when you are the first-generation student, you have more work to do,” she said. “Some of the students who come here don’t come from areas where English is a common language, so they come here completely having to start from the beginning.”

Boyle added that it takes more time for these students to graduate because of additional language courses they need to take, which are outside the regular high school curriculum.

Syracuse still falls behind the New York state average graduation rate, which was 79.4 percent in 2016, despite its improvement.

Boyle said this is because of the issue of poverty in Syracuse, since the city has the highest concentration of poverty among black and Hispanic populations out of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country.

Boyle believes that offering programs that help build students’ career paths can solve the achievement gap, she said.

“We are bringing the kids to a place where they have future and potential,” Boyle said. “So every opportunity is in place to turn the ship around.”

Programs like Career and Technical Education, Boyle said, have encouraged students across five high schools in Syracuse to pursue their individual talent.

“Everybody got their unique situation,” she said. “What we need to do is look into one another for strategies that are working.”

With programs benefiting students, Boyle said she expects there would be more of an increase in the city’s graduation rate in the future.

The state’s DOE also said in a news release that it’s important for schools to provide opportunities for students to earn a high school diploma and participate in career and technical programs.

MaryEllen Elia, New York’s commissioner of education, said in a statement that even though the improvements have been seen in recent years, the state is still working on improving outcomes for students at struggling schools.

“While the upward trend in New York state’s graduation rates continues, there is still much work to do,” the commissioner said.


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