Walter L. Cohen High School

Walter L. Cohen High School

With a television camera and nearly 40 journalists watching, the Diplomas Now team at Walter L. Cohen High School commenced its weekly meeting to discuss at-risk ninth graders. The first student was struggling with all three indicators—attendance, behavior and course failure—and the principal, teachers and social worker discussed what would turn him around. Another student had been on his best behavior for a month, until an episode earlier in the week. A third had just received a “most improved” accolade but, at 17, still had few credits toward graduation.

The Diplomas Now school in New Orleans hosted a visit from the Education Writers Association, which was holding a conference in town last week. Reporters and education advocates met with students, mentors, teachers and administrators to learn how the team is turning around a school that one documentary dubbed “the most dangerous school in America.”

Since Diplomas Now began working in the school in 2009, attendance and course performance have improved, and suspensions have declined significantly. The percentage of ninth graders missing 20 or more days a year has dropped from 79 percent to 52 percent. The number of students earning As and Bs increased 19 percentage points, as the number receiving Ds and Fs declined 12 percentage points. In 2010, the average number of suspension days was down by 40 percent.

Many of Cohen’s students were in middle school when Katrina struck, knocking their education off course. It’s going to take the combined work of the school administration, Talent Development’s curriculum, City Year’s near peers and Community in Schools social workers to put these students back on course to graduation.

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