April 06. 2012 9:59AM

Helping students Aspire to success

By Scott VanderSanden

Did you know that one in four students – more than one million a year – fails to graduate with their class?

This is a troubling statistic – and one we are trying to do something about at AT&T. Through our Aspire program, we've worked with organizations across the country over the last four years to help reverse this trend and reach the national goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Although the high school dropout rate has shown improvement, it's still a critical problem, particularly in an era when competition for jobs among people and among nations is intense.

In our continued effort to address this vital issue, we're excited to launch a new phase of Aspire. We're investing $250 million over five years to build on our efforts to help more students graduate from high school prepared for careers and college and to ensure our nation is better prepared for global competition. Aspire has already impacted over 1 million students with $100 million invested since 2008, and now we are doubling down on America's students and future.

In Wisconsin, we've always placed a premium on education, and we're delighted to have played a role in student success.

In the first phase of Aspire, AT&T provided a $360,000 grant to fund two programs at Milwaukee's Bradley Tech and Vincent High Schools that have been successful in decreasing suspensions and increasing student achievement.

The Restorative Justice Program has helped reduce suspension rates and increase attendance rates at both schools for the first time in many years. The Math Achievement Program has helped both schools increase at least four percentage points on the November 2010 WKCE math test scores for the first time in four years, increasing the numbers of proficient and advanced students.

With our new Aspire, we'll take a "socially innovative" approach that goes beyond traditional philanthropy, engaging people and technology to create different solutions to social problems.

In today's world, the mobile Internet is omnipresent. Students of all ages are adept at using this powerful resource, and its power must be harnessed for the cause of education. Aspire will leverage technology to connect with students in new and more effective ways, including an emphasis on gamification, mobile applications, video and social media.

But technology alone will not solve the education challenge. It takes people, too.
We plan to take our current Job Shadow program to a new level with the Aspire Mentoring Academy, and provide more opportunities for our employees to work with students at-risk of dropping out to help them succeed in the classroom and in life.
Local community organizations will also be vital to the success of Aspire. Wisconsin organizations can now submit applications for Aspire funding until April 18 at www.att.com/education-news.

Aspire is an investment in our children's future and America's future. Through Aspire, we can help create a pipeline of diverse talent for all U.S. companies by ensuring our students graduate high school equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to strengthen the nation's workforce.

Scott VanderSanden is the president of AT&T Wisconsin.