1997 Finalist
New York City, New York
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards
New York

In the mid-1990s, New York City high schools reported graduation and attendance rates of roughly 50 percent. With class sizes at 35 to 40 students, truancy had become more of a coping mechanism than a challenge. Even those who attended classes produced test scores that indicated that they were not achieving even the basic levels of competence required for further education. It became apparent that educators were conducting a kind of educational triage, investing in promising students, while options and resources for disadvantaged students steadily decreased.

LaGuardia Middle College High School, founded in 1974, is the first truly collaborative high school established on a community college campus. LaGuardia is a hybrid institution designed specifically to encourage potential dropouts to complete high school and continue on to college. It recruits students in junior high schools who are identified as "high risk" and gives them the motivation and peer models they need to succeed. Because the school is located on a community college campus, LaGuardia students are provided with a concrete connection to the next step of learning.

Students may participate fully in the life of the college. They are given college ID cards, they can eat at the cafeteria, and even attend classes to earn college credit while getting their high school diplomas. LaGuardia Middle College offers intensive group and peer counseling to help students cope with both academic and personal problems. The cooperative education program lets students participate in three internships designed to help them make career decisions and experience the practical applications of the skills they have been learning. The school's interdisciplinary curriculum and small team-taught classes, led by college and high school faculty, have shown great success.

When teenagers drop out of school, the cost to society is enormous, in both human and financial terms. LaGuardia Middle College's program is characterized by an economy of resources that benefits the public both financially and socially. Expansive facilities, such as the library and the gym, do not need to be constructed twice. The sharing of physical resources and staffing has resulted in significant financial savings for the taxpayer. The Middle College Consortium now has member schools across the country.