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November 22, 2011

America’s Poorest City Struggles to Keep Kids in School

Reading, Pennsylvania, about an hour away from Philadelphia, has earned the unfortunate title of the “poorest city in America.” Once a major manufacturing town, most of Reading’s factories have closed their doors and laid off hundreds of workers during the recession, leaving many jobless. As a result, many young people are dropping out of school because they don’t see job prospects after graduation.

To try to show high schoolers that they do have a future in Reading, some charter schools are starting programs in partnership with local manufacturers to train students in the specific skills they will need to go into a manufacturing job. They hope that with that focused training, students will understand that an education can lead to a steady, rewarding job in their hometown.


“I was once one of those young people. I didn’t see light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t until I came across a great mentor that said, you can achieve these things, you can do great things that I started — it started clicking. And I started realizing, wow, yes, I can, because someone else believes in me.” – Angel Figueroa

“I think it’s very well known that education is one of the key predictors of a person not falling into poverty. And if a person has access to quality education, completes education, it’s less likely that the person is going to fall into poverty. The city of Reading dropout rate is significantly high. Some estimates is, it is approaches 50 percent. That’s not a good statistic for us to be dealing with.” – William Bender, professor

Warm Up Questions

1. What is the purpose of education?

2. What is poverty? What factors lead to poverty?

3. What happened during the recession that began in 2008? What were the consequences?

Discussion Questions

1. Do you think you’re more likely to want to get an education if you know there is a good job at the end of it? What motivates you to stay in school?

2. Why are manufacturing jobs leaving the U.S.?

3. What is the economy based around where you live? What industries are big sources of jobs? Did any of them suffer during the recession?

Additional Resources

Video Transcript

‘Dropout Factories’ Fight to Raise Graduation Rates

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