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Gen. Colin Powell is founding chair and Alma Powell is board chair of America’s Promise Alliance, a partnership dedicated to the well-being of young people.

Could your hometown be named one of the 100 best communities for young people?

Any community taking action to reduce dropout rates and improve the lives of young people is eligible to apply for the 100 Best Communities for Young People competition, presented by ING. Winning communities receive national media recognition, commemorative awards, and the resources and expertise of America's Promise Alliance. Community leaders, advocates, service providers or residents can apply online at americaspromise.org/100Best. Applications are due June 1.

America's sorry graduation rates

In the United States, nearly one in three students fails to get a high school diploma. And in our 50 largest cities, only half of students graduate on time. These 10 cities have the lowest graduation rates:

% who graduate
Indianapolis 30.5
Cleveland 34.4
Detroit 37.5
Milwaukee 41.0
Baltimore 41.5
Atlanta 43.5
Los Angeles 44.4
Clark County (Las Vegas) 44.5
Columbus 44.7
Nashville-Davidson Co. 45.2

Source: EPE Research Center, 2009

How does your district stack up?

For detailed graduation numbers for your school district, go to: maps.edweek.org

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Tatiana had all the makings of becoming another statistic. Born to a teenage mother who left home and a father who was in jail, no one really cared how Tatiana did in school. So, why should she?

For most kids, America is a land of great possibility, where hopes and dreams are met every day, yet we are far from fulfilling even basic promises to children like Tatiana. Today, more than 13 million American children live in poverty, and we have one of the worst infant death rates in the industrialized world. A shocking 30% of young people drop out of high school, including half of all minority and low-income youths. In effect, we lose an entire graduating class every three years.

For high school dropouts, a secure and successful future is almost certainly out of reach. Even among graduates, only a third have the skills they need for success in college and the workforce. This grim reality not only dashes our children's dreams, but it also threatens our national security and vitality. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, if dropouts from the class of 2009 had graduated, the country would have benefited from an additional $335 billion in income earned over the course of their lifetimes. Instead, dropouts earn far less than college graduates, rely much more on food stamps and other social services, are more likely to end up in prison and often have children destined to repeat these mistakes in an endless, hopeless cycle.

Our work with America's Promise Alliance, a partnership organization committed to helping young people succeed, is focused on providing children with the 'five promises': caring adults, safe places, an effective education, a healthy start and opportunities to help others.

Children need adults in their lives who care about education and provide support every step of the way. We were both lucky enough to have encouragement from family members who expected us to succeed and helped us do our very best. In March, we'll announce a movement called Grad Nation, with the goal of mobilizing all Americans to end the dropout crisis.

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Here are ways people already are making a difference. You can follow their example or see a guidebook packed with proven ways to reduce your community's dropout rate at americaspromise.org/gradnation.

Go to school.

In 2007, 44,000 parents and members of the community in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District volunteered nearly 680,000 hours, establishing mentoring programs such as 'lunch buddies' and 'reading buddies' and motivating children by conducting weekend beautification projects.

Share your career.

Manatee County, Fla., faced a graduation rate of only 56%. Then its school district implemented some changes, offering a flexible Web-based program with more course choices and local on-the-job training with a job coach. Today, three out of four teens earn a diploma.

Be a mentor.

Students who meet regularly with mentors are 52% less likely to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip class than their peers who don't have such guidance. To find programs near you, visit mentoring.org.

Volunteer in your community.

There are many ways to get involved in volunteer opportunities that serve youths. When the Chesterfield County, Va., Parks and Recreation Department partnered with local businesses to encourage support of summer recreation and sports programs, more than 5,300 local adults became volunteer sports coaches. Check out DoSomething.org and Servenet.org to find opportunities in your community.

Use a free student poll.

Given to school districts at no charge, the Gallup Student Poll assesses hope, engagement and well-being of students in grades 5 to 12. Killeen Independent School District in Texas used the poll to learn more about how to help its students, many of whom are in Fort Hood's military families. For more information, visit gallupstudentpoll.com.

Recognize effort.

Nominate outstanding organizations and programs in your community to become Promise Places, a designation that honors efforts to deliver a full set of supports 'the five promises' to young people. One notable Promise Place is Nashville's Youth Opportunities Center, where more than 2,000 kids have taken advantage of the educational, health and volunteer opportunities offered each week. Another one is the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pa., a tuition-free school for children from low-income families. To nominate a Promise Place, go online to americaspromise.org.

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Get kids involved.

When youngsters in Burbank, Calif., identified teen dating violence as a serious problem in their community, a group of students developed a local-access TV program to address the problem. The program, which won a regional Emmy, has led to greater awareness and more reports on discrimination, depression, drug use and the consequences of sex.

Tatiana entered the world with challenges that would set back many young people. But she received support and encouragement through a special mentoring relationship with a teacher. She also spent her time after school at her church, where she joined a dance class and choir. In her senior year, Tatiana was part of the BoostUp campaign, sponsored by the U.S. Army and Ad Council. In it, she made online videos about her challenges and received 'boosts': inspirational messages of support. Last year, Tatiana became the first person in her family to graduate from high school. Today, she is a thriving college student in Georgia, and she hopes to become a social worker one day.

We need every caring citizen to help children like Tatiana. If we work together, the United States can become a Grad Nation, ensuring that future generations graduate from high school ready for college and a career. We can provide our nation with a competitive 21st-century workforce fit to compete with any country in the world.

Cover and cover story photographs of Colin and Alm

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