May 24, 2010

Nonprofits receive $6 million to support Diplomas Now effort

The PepsiCo Foundation last week announced an increased commitment to Diplomas Now, a collaborative effort that combines the respective strengths, expertise and resources of three nonprofits—Johns Hopkins’ Talent Development, City Year and Communities In Schools—to address the staggering high school dropout rate in select cities across the U.S.

The foundation will invest $6 million in the program over the next three years, building on a $5 million grant in 2008. The new investment will support expansion within the program’s current locations and provide for the addition of new cities.

Diplomas Now is an innovative school turnaround model, funded by the PepsiCo Foundation, that works with the nation’s most challenged middle and high schools to help students at risk of dropping out of school get back on track to high school graduation and be ready for college and a career. Its collaborative design blends whole-school reform with student support and an early-warning system working in partnership with school districts, administrators, teachers and students. The model also provides health and physical activities across the whole school and for targeted students before, during and after school.

Piloted in 2008 in Philadelphia and expanded to Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans and San Antonio last year, the Diplomas Now model hinges on research developed by Johns Hopkins’ Center for Social Organization of Schools and the Philadelphia Education Fund. Their findings indicate that 75 percent of America’s high school dropouts can be identified between sixth and ninth grades by monitoring “off-track indicators,” including poor attendance, poor behavior and course failure in English or math. Diplomas Now monitors these indicators and responds at the first warning sign with interventions tailored to students’ needs.

“Examining early-warning indicators and working closely with school administrators and teachers, we identify off-track students and develop customized strategies to get them back on track and keep them there,” said Robert Balfanz, director of the Talent Development programs at Johns Hopkins.

In its first year, Diplomas Now exceeded its goal of achieving a 25 percent reduction in off-track indicators among students in schools where the program was implemented.