All of Jennings High School’s most recent senior class is either bound for college or has found employment, according to the district.
That does include McDonald’s for some grads, but district administrators said the fast-food chain is a partner and enrolled students into its college scholarship program.
One-hundred and sixty students received diplomas this spring — a 97 percent graduation rate, the highest in St. Louis County and better than the national average of 83 percent. Sixty percent of the graduating class is enrolled in college, according to the district. The rest found employment, which includes five students enlisting in the military.
A quarter of those students left high school with some college credits and 120 students went through career-focused academies.
Jennings was honored in June with a President’s Award from NAF, formerly the National Academy Foundation, an in-school career training network that the school implemented for the 2016-17 school year. Under NAF, schools partner with local businesses and establish career-oriented academy tracks for students.
Jennings is in an economically depressed part of St. Louis County. The high school is 98 percent African-American and all students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Its neighboring districts have gone through state takeovers and loss of accreditation.
“When you got one of these communities that really does struggle financially, those partnerships, those collaborations with other agencies become primary,” said Shari Sevier, the director of advocacy with the Missouri School Counselor Association. She has worked with Jennings schools, and called the high school’s accomplishment “remarkable.”
At Jennings, students did internships with and site visits to the corporate telecom provider World Wide Technology, the St. Louis College of Pharmacy and construction company Clayco.
While it’s not a requirement for Jennings high schoolers to either go to college or have a career plan in order to graduate, something that Chicago Public Schools will mandate beginning in 2020, all seniors are required to apply to two colleges and fill out federal financial aid paperwork, Jennings High School Principal Rhonda Key said.
The focus on students’ life after school begins the day they start high school, she added.
“We see them as college graduates, workers in the community and we are preparing our ninth-graders for the world outside of Jennings High School,” she said.
Sevier and NAF President JD Hoye gave a lot of credit to the district’s leadership, especially former superintendent, Tiffany Anderson, and current leader Art McCoy.
Jennings “hit a home run in a very difficult space,” Hoye said.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney