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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
November 1, 2007
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the 2007 Communities in Schools National Conference
Hyatt Regency Atlanta
12:30 P.M. EDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you, David. Thank you for the great work you do for the Corporation for Public Service. And I also want to especially recognize my friend, Bill Milliken, the National Founder and the Vice Chairman of Communities in Schools. Bill and Jean happen to go to our same church, so we get to sit and look at them in church on Sunday -- early Sunday morning -- we go to the very early service. There's something really special about being able to be with somebody that you admire like I admire Bill in church every Sunday. So thank you, Bill, thank you for your years of work for young people in the United States.
I'm so happy to have this chance to be with you all here in Atlanta. Atlanta, as many of you know, was one of the original Communities In Schools cities - and so it's perfect for this national conference. And I'm happy to congratulate Communities In Schools on your 30 years of terrific work for young people.
More than 1,000 people have gathered here at this conference to determine how all of us can help young people stay in school and prepare for successful lives. President Bush and I have supported Communities In Schools for many years, starting when he was governor of Texas. Our home state of Texas embraced CIS since the 1980s, when one of your board members, Linda Gale White -- and her husband, former Texas Governor Mark White -- started CIS in Texas.
At that time, Communities in Schools was just a fledgling organization in Houston. Governor White was impressed by CIS's educational model -- and he saw how important it is for students' academic and social needs to be addressed at school. He adopted the CIS model at the state level, and your work has been supported by every Texas governor since. (Applause.)
I don't know if Linda Gale White is here -- I don't know if she's here -- I guess she isn't. Today, Communities In Schools is an integral part of public education in Texas and in 26 other states, and, of course, in the District of Columbia. In schools across our country, you're working to address one of the most challenging issues of public education, and that is our nation's dropout crisis.
The U.S. Department of Education estimates that out of every 100 students who enter high school, only 74 graduate on time. Among African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, the graduation rate is closer to only 50 percent. Just this week, reports revealed that about 1,700 schools -- nearly one out of 10 schools -- are "dropout factories," -- that's what they were called in the report -- which graduate fewer than 60 percent of their students on time.
These unacceptable numbers represent millions of real young people who are excluded from our economy, and unqualified for our society. Ninety percent of America's fastest growing jobs require higher education. Dropouts, obviously, are more likely to be unemployed. This crisis affects all Americans. Since dropouts are less likely to vote, or volunteer, or give back to their communities, all of us suffer from their disappearance from civic life. And all of us have the obligation to help.
Fortunately, there is some good news. Principals and teachers across our country are doing their part by eliminating academic obstacles to graduation, through the No Child Left Behind Act. The act has brought a special focus to improving reading and math instruction in early grades, since students who learn to read and do math early on are more likely to succeed once they reach high school.
Through No Child Left Behind, we've helped improve the reading and math skills of millions of children across the United States. Reading scores, the most recent NAEP scores that just came out last month show fourth graders -- the reading scores are the highest on record of fourth graders. That's really good news. (Applause.) And the achievement gap between white and African American fourth grade students is at an all-time low. And in math, scores for fourth and eighth graders are higher than they've ever been before.
One of the greatest obstacles to graduation is the lack of adult involvement in young people's lives. In a recent study of high school dropouts, many of these dropouts reported that their own parents weren't involved enough in their education. Only about half of the students had an adult at school that they could turn to with an academic problem. And even fewer had an adult at school to go to with a personal problem. Nearly two-thirds of students missed class often before they finally dropped out. When adults are involved in the lives of young people, they can see these warning signs -- and then they can act to help students stay in school.
Encouraging adults to invest in the lives of young people is at the heart of the Helping America's Youth Initiative. President Bush launched Helping America's Youth in his 2005 State of the Union address, and he asked me to lead it. So over the last two years, I've traveled throughout the United States, visiting with young people and with the adults who are so important to their lives. I've been to schools and to after-school programs. I've met with mentors and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Today, this afternoon, I'll visit Big Brothers and Big Sisters in New Orleans.
I've visited a sports program in Detroit, and gang intervention programs in Los Angeles and Chicago. In 2005, I was here in Atlanta to observe the Computer Assisted Debate Project at Benjamin S. Carson Honors Preparatory School. Through this debate program, young people learn the values of teamwork, and they develop healthy new interests. They build confidence by improving their public speaking -- and with the help of caring adults, they learn to use discussion and debate to resolve conflicts, instead of violence.
All of these visits led to a White House conference on Helping America's Youth. And since that conference in October of 2005, there have been four regional conferences across the country. And next week a regional conference will be held in Dallas. At these conferences, we've introduced concerned adults to the online, interactive Community Guide to Helping America's Youth. The guide helps adults learn more about the problems facing young people in their own communities, and what resources are available to address those problems. The guide's "Program Tool," for example, helps adults find youth initiatives that research has proven are effective in reducing substance abuse, gang activity, and other risk faced by our youth.
The Community Guide is available on the Helping America's Youth website, at www.helpingamericasyouth.gov. That's "gov." I urge you to go to the website and use the Community Guide to address the unique challenges facing young people in your own communities.
The message of Helping America's Youth is also the guiding principle of Communities In Schools: that one-on-one relationships with caring adults can transform young people's lives. For three decades, CIS has enabled students to concentrate on what's most important in school -- learning -- by addressing the unmet personal and social needs of children and families.
CIS staff provide whatever services a student needs to do well in school -- whether it's securing backpacks and season-appropriate clothes, or working with students to keep notebooks and assignments organized, or helping children avoid risky behaviors like drugs and violence, or encouraging young people to set high goals for themselves, like attending college and building successful careers.
CIS is active in more than 3,200 schools. With help from nearly 200 local affiliates, you serve over a million students and their families every year. Since I'll be in New Orleans later today, I also want to commend CIS for supporting children affected by Hurricane Katrina, which damaged or destroyed more than 1,100 schools on the Gulf Coast. Over 40,000 students displaced by the storm were welcomed into CIS schools, which offered traumatized children the comfort of a school routine. Thank you to CIS for your extraordinary service to young people on the Gulf Coast. (Applause.)
On the Gulf Coast and throughout the United States, this commitment to service and leadership has made CIS a vital resource to administrations at the local, state, and national level. Your concept of building a safety net around vulnerable young people -- and of creating small schools to help students succeed -- is being embraced by partner youth organizations from coast to coast. Your effect is felt most, though, by the students whose lives are influenced by CIS staff members and teachers every day - staff members like Marcie Martinez, who's just been recognized with CIS's Unsung Hero award.
For 15 years, Marcie -- a first-generation high school and college graduate -- has worked to pass on the respect for education that was instilled in her by her parents to her own students. True to CIS's model, Marcie cares deeply about her students' lives outside the classroom. When a little boy at Memorial Intermediate -- one of Marcie's schools in Texas -- needed retinal transplants, Marcie found a local doctor to donate his time, and worked with the local Lion's Club to pay for the corrective surgery.
Marcie brings in mentors to work with at-risk kids -- who make up about 40 percent of Memorial Intermediate's student body. Marcie helps teachers do home visits, and she keeps on top of students' attendance and homework. "She has a very big heart, and she always finds room for one more child," Memorial Intermediate's principal, Kara Bock, explains. Kara also describes the impact of CIS on her school: "Having that one extra support person who's dedicated to the social and emotional needs of kids is huge," she says.
One former Memorial Intermediate student who understands the impact of Communities in Schools is George Hererra. George is the oldest of six children, and has he's had a difficult home life. His mother has had a hard time providing a stable environment for her children, so her children often stay with family and friends, or moved from one house to the other.
George started with CIS-South Central Texas when he was in the fourth grade, and he stayed with the program through high school. Even though he often didn't get to live at his own home, he still held a high school job and gave some of his income to his mother. George says he loved high school, but he never expected he'd make it to college, at least not anytime soon. So when George started his senior year, his track coach began looking for scholarships, but George hadn't taken the required standardized tests, or sent his transcript to any colleges.
That's when George's favorite CIS staff member -- "Miss Victoria" -- stepped in. She gave George some ideas about schools to apply to, and she took him on college visits. She had professors come to school and talk with George and other seniors about their departments and their disciplines. Miss Victoria helped George obtain financial aid applications, and fee waivers for the ACT and SAT exam. "Miss Victoria is amazing," George says, "I wouldn't be here without her." "Here" is Angelo State University, where George, now a freshman, plans to study psychology and biology so he can become a physical therapist.
Although CIS works to make sure students complete high school, your work doesn't end with high school graduation. CIS helped arrange George's college financial aid, and helped pay for his textbooks. The Board of Directors of CIS donated the things he'd need for college, like bedding and towels, and laundry baskets and luggage. And the benefits of CIS's work don't end with George: "The fact that I went to college," he says, "affects my younger siblings, and motivates them." "My two younger brothers were troublemakers, but now they're doing a lot better in school, and they look up to me."
And George hadn't forgotten his mentors: CIS staff say that George sends emails saying how excited he is to be in college, and promising that he won't let them down. Communities In Schools, George explains, "gives kids an opportunity to make something of themselves. It can change someone's life."
I'd like to recognize Marcie Martinez and the representatives from CIS South Central Texas that are in the audience. (Applause.)
Thanks to each of you for your work to change young people's lives. Thank you to Bill Milliken for the great idea of Communities In Schools, and for your three decades of commitment to our young people. I wish all of you the very best for this conference -- and for the work that you do each and every day to improve the lives of young people.
Thank you all very much and God bless you. (Applause.)