23 May 2013
- Written by Dena L. Owens/Special to The New Tri-State Defender
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Manassas High School principal James Griffin, who was challenged as a youth by the same type of economic trials his students now face, developed an idea to help dreams come true, not for some, but all of his graduating class.
On Saturday, May 25, at 5 p.m., 100 percent of Manassas' 12th graders and eligible 11th graders will graduate at the Cannon Center – not a small triumph since the principal inherited a 55 percent graduation rate in 2010 prior to his arrival.
Not only will his 119 graduates receive diplomas, each has already received at least two acceptance letters from post-secondary educational institutions that will lead to a career path.
"Keeping it 100" is the name of the campaign Griffin developed to ensure that every member of the senior class (a) graduates with a diploma and (b) submits at least 10 applications each to universities, trade schools or two-year colleges.
The 2013 class completed 1800 applications and received nearly 260 acceptance letters. Students post copies of each letter to the school's main hall wall to remind incoming seniors of the expectations. Incoming seniors will take them down and place their letters on the wall to inspire the next class.
Griffin's campaign motivates students to pursue obtainable career goals.
To keep the students focused, the principal assembled a group of 10 seniors to encourage other members of the 2013 class, and he pulled members of his teaching staff to assist with questions.
"We were skeptical at first, but as several seniors got involved, others fed off their enthusiasm and it grew," says Manassas senior Kalesha Nelson.
Nelson is heading to Anthem Career College after graduation to focus on a career as a medical assistant.
"'Keeping it 100' needs to keep going," says Selane Frazier, the aunt to Manassas seniors Raven Walker and Jerome Scott. This fall, Walker will attend Barton Community College in Great Bend, Kansas, to pursue training as a physical therapist. Scott will attend Eastern Oklahoma State University to major in business management.
Seniors D'ana and Diera McGrew, identical twins, will both head to the University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff, in August. D'ana plans to be a forensic pathologist; Diera will seek a career as an anesthesiologist.
While Manassas students have struggled academically on end-of-course proficiency tests, in recent years, the school has seen improvement.
Last year, Manassas was the only school with double-digit gains in both math and English. Improving schools generally see a three to four percent increase in proficiency in a year's time.
When asked how he feels about the expectations he places on himself and his students, Griffin is modest yet beams with pride when talking about "the wall."
"The 100 percent graduation rate is just one step we're celebrating," says Griffin. "We've got far more to accomplish, but it does feel good to look at our wall and see how this will help our students years from now."
"We don't make excuses, we make it happen" is the school motto Griffin speaks on his office voice mail greeting. The motto reminds the first-generation college graduate of his own struggles as a teenager.
Griffin recalls reading the mail to his mother, who only had a fifth-grade education. He would tell his mom when bills were due, and in one instance, he told her when they would be evicted.
In spite of those difficulties, Griffin was determined to succeed. Early on, he developed plans for a fruitful life, which included a "plan A" and a "plan B."
Now, he teaches his students to do the same.