Local Education Center Fights Low Graduation Rates Local Education Center Fights Low Graduation Rates

In a city with some of the worst high school graduation rates in New York State, a possible solution can be found in a surprising location.

Mark Cass is the executive director of North Side Learning Center–a place that teaches English, and provides tutoring–to refugees from all over the globe .

A lot of East African nations at the moment, East Asian as well, Middle East would be kind of a third category of students. So we have a nice mix here.

Cass has taught adult literacy courses his entire life, but upon coming here, he could tell this place was different. When

I walked in there was a hundred and fifty people and this just doesn’t happen. So there was something special going on here. Really it’s just blossomed from that. This really is a place that celebrates learning. It’s not you know teacher deciding what somebody learns, it’s it’s learning together.

Cass stresses the importance of volunteers in the organization and the fact that anyone can help.

So I guess I’d want people to know that they can be part of this too. We find out what people are passionate about what they have that they want to share and if there’s an audience for that among our students then we let them run.

One subset of the program is a tutoring service provided to high school students. That program is led by Mickey Walker. Walker says the main hurdle for his students is learning everyday language.

The bulk of what needs to be done is really the English, because there’s a vocabulary deficiency that the kids had just because they haven’t spoken the language as a primary language for so long.

But he says it’s a matter of when, not if, they master it.

All of them speaking at least one, two languages, some speak as many as five. I think that if you give these guys enough time they’re going to be able to do things on par with, or excel in, any other academic pursuit that anybody else can do.

And previous students have already proven the success rate

Last year we had nine that went onto college. Out of? Well, nine out of the nine that could’ve.

Last month, it was released that graduation rates at the Syracuse City School District in 2018 had dropped to fifty eight point three percent…down from sixty and a half percent in 2017. However, as you can see, the graduation rates for students in Syracuse City School District that come here to North Side Learning Center…that’s all the way up at 90 percent, showing the program’s benefits to the community in this area.

I think for the most part the thing that strikes me is that they actually care about what happens not only to themselves,
but to each other. There’s a lot of support, very little peer pressure, everything seems to be a sort of communal in terms of the way that they achieve success and also the way that they encourage other people to achieve success.

Cass hopes to expand the program in the future to help as many high school students in the area as possible. Jake Graziano, NCC news

Tucked away in Syracuse’s economically depressed Northside is a hidden gem of education creating opportunities for the refugee population that resides there.

Since 2009, the North Side Learning Center has provided adult literacy courses for refugees and immigrants in the Syracuse area. In recent years, it has added tutoring and after-school help to the community’s high school students.

Mickey Walker is the lead high school teacher at North Side Learning Center, and you would probably never guess what drew him into this line of work.

“Honestly, the reason I started teaching here was because I was so disgusted with Donald Trump that I chose something I figured would aggravate him if he knew about it,” Walker said.


The students that attend Walker’s class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings come from schools all over the Syracuse City School District (SCSD), and are mainly children of East African and Middle Eastern refugees who have only lived in the United States for only a few years.

And it’s because of this that their main barrier to academic success, according to Walker, is the language gap.

“The primary issue for them is just learning English,” Walker said. “They’ve only lived here for a short period of time, so they have an issue with some of the more complicated words and the more involved grammar.”

However, in a city with 2018 high school graduation rates coming in at just 58.3 percent, according to a recent Syracuse.com article, the North Side Learning Center can be seen as a sign of hope.

That’s because the students who attend the center’s classes have a graduation rate of 90 percent, according to Walker. Moreover, many of the students have gone on to pursue post-secondary schooling as well.

“At this point we have some students who have become the first in their family to attend college,” Walker says. “It’s been great to be able to watch some of these kids grow over the last few years.”

But it shouldn’t be considered a surprise that these students have excelled academically.

“All of these kids speak at least two languages. Some of them speak as many as five,” Walker said. “These are really bright kids that just need time, and then they can do anything that any other student would be capable of.”

In the coming years, North Side hopes to bring in more students from around the Syracuse area to combat the city’s downward trending graduation rates, and provide educational assistance to a population that is often forgotten.

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