CLEVELAND—Students at Richmond Heights High School are a part of the First Ring Leadership Institute.

  • First Ring Leadership aims to strengthen student's' leadership skills and challenge them to become change agents
  • Students found a connection between dropout rates and mental health
  • The students' discovery is helping to elicit change 

The program is designed to help students find root causes of issues facing their communities and their schools.

But for this group of students, their discovery led to so much more.

When the students started doing research on dropout prevention, they didn't know what they'd find. 

All they knew was that their school had a problem—a 77 percent graduation rate, with a number of dropouts—and it needed to be solved. 

Within a year's time and with the help of lead teacher Joshua Patty, they were able to share with these principals and superintendents the real issue— mental health.

"So students, you know, they get down on their grades and then they have mental health issues," said Patty.

But for the students, grades were only a piece of the puzzle.

"Things like that are happening at home or they're not getting supervised," said Gbolahan Adio, Richmond Heights High School student.

All the craziness that they go through…if they told you some of the stories that they’re going through, it’s even hard to imagine," said Patty.

The discovery of mental health challenges being directly connected to dropout rates was surprising—even for their superintendent Renee Willis—which sent her on a mission

"I think we may have overlooked or misdiagnosed a student’s issue around mental health for something else,” said Willis. “So that is definitely a theme that we’re gonna go back and take a look at…because we can’t lose students particularly to issues, any student, but to one as serious as mental health."

That sentiment seemed to be the theme of the day as group after group presented research and solutions for mental health problems at their schools.

With many hoping for change, Richmond Heights students recommended that their superintendent assist with implementing programs like Big Brother Big Sister and peer mentoring.

"So seniors starting to reach back and becoming mentors to the ninth grade because the graduation rate is formed at that ninth grade cohort…and then having that become an ongoing process," said Willis.

But beyond mentoring, their teacher says they realized more was needed, like career-based intervention for students at risk of dropping out. 

“We’re gonna probably hopefully look at a career-based intervention program with a work study… where students can actually work. For the students that aren’t normally motivated in school normally, they can get work-based learning," said Patty.

And it's changes like this that have left administrators proud, teachers excited and students encouraged about the future.

"The goal is have nobody drop out, everybody graduate. So, we feel like we can come very close to making that happen," said Adio.

Students in the First Ring Leadership Institute are nominated by their superintendents to be a part of the program.