What do our students at 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Indiana have in common with Bruce Springsteen? They were both on the front page of the Gary Post Tribune this week.

My friend Jerry Davich writes an excellent column about Springsteen’s Broadway show. And Post Tribune reporter Meredith Colias-Pete wrote a wonderful report about our high school students aspiring to earn college bachelor degrees while in our Gary school.

In a way, both articles are related. Davich writes that Springsteen looks at ghosts from the past to move forward. At 21st Century, we’ve looked at ghosts, too. Ghosts of traditional high schools with traditional or predictable and less than acceptable outcomes. That’s why we do things the way we do in Gary. Our fresh and updated approach gives students reasons to graduate from high school and the ability to complete college.

When we started our school in 2005, the local district had a 50% dropout rate. Our school posts graduation rates near or above 90% regularly. Why? Because our students have a reason to complete high school.

When we started, many students told me they were in school for the social scene (ok, they actually said “the girls”), others said they were in school to be on the basketball team. Very few said they were in school so that they could get ready for college. And, after studying the issue, it became quite apparent to me that we needed to change the dynamics. Kids needed to realize that they can go to college and they didn’t need someone telling them how important college is. They needed to see it and experience it for themselves. So, we started enrolling students in real college classes ON the college campus—not in our high school. It worked.

Our students now understand they can do college. And boy are they!!! We have nine students out of 63 seniors who will earn an Associate Degree in 2019 BEFORE they graduate from our high school. The state of Indiana reports our college and career readiness is the best in NW Indiana, even beating elite private schools, and competing with the best high schools statewide.

Families are now lining up to go to our school—we have more than 500 students on our wait list in Gary and we don’t advertise.

Our students are “Born in the USA” and “Born to Run” to use a couple titles from The Boss. And yes, our students are good enough to be The Boss some day. Their own boss. Their own company owners.

At GEO, we will do everything possible to support our students. We don’t believe high school students are too young to experience college. We believe they can be successful-and they are—and that yesterday’s traditions are exactly that…so yesterday! It’s a new year. I’m excited for tomorrow, for 2019.

Happy New Year!!