Don’t Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young People Who Leave High School Before Graduation is a report that was recently published by America’s Promise Alliance which explores the perspectives of young people who stopped attending school before completion. The report is aptly named based on the request of the students themselves, who preferred not to be labeled as dropouts. The students explained that although they may not have completed high school by the traditional route, many did at some point complete a high school or equivalent program, although they were still considered “dropouts,” as they did not complete traditional high school within four years.
The report begins by outlining its four findings of the student-based research data, goes on to explain the five conclusions they came to about the students who do not finish high school, and ends with five recommendations for addressing the high school dropout rate. I encourage you to read the full report, as well as view their video at http://www.americaspromise.org/resource/dont-call-them-dropouts-0.
When examining the findings in this report, especially the five recommendations, it’s comforting to see these recommendations are reflected in Check & Connect.
#1: “Listen.” The report explains that getting to know and understand students and their unique circumstances, not just making assumptions about their reasons for dropping out, is key. Check & Connect mentors develop long-lasting relationships with their mentees and their families to ensure school success. They use reflective listening to build relationships with students and families and to ensure that students know they have a caring adult who really hears them.
#2: “Surround the highest-need young people with extra supports.” The report suggests that students not only demonstrating the early warning ABCs (Attendance, Behavior, Credits earned) of potentially dropping out, but who also have additional difficult life circumstances need additional support within and outside of the school system. Check & Connect mentors not only provide additional support within the school system, but also act as resource brokers to help get students and families the help they need outside of the school system, such as referring students and families to agencies and service providers.
#3: “Create a cadre of community navigators to help students stay in school.” The report indicates that students in especially difficult times need someone to help them persist through their circumstances and stay in school. Check & Connect works to surround students with positive support and bridge the gaps between the community, family, and school, using a persistence-plus approach to continue to support the student through thick and thin. The mentor works closely with school personnel and the family to help the student invest in his/her own education.
#4: “Follow the evidence.” The report advises using programs that have been proven to be effective. Check & Connect is the only dropout prevention intervention to show positive effects for staying in school as reported by What Works Clearinghouse, a division of the U.S. Department of Education that reviews educational research. Mentors use weekly data checks to monitor student progress and create immediate interventions for students who are high risk in the areas known to be early warning signs for dropping out.
#5: “Place young people in central roles in designing and implementing solutions that will work for their peers.” The report illuminates the idea of having these students involved in creating solutions. Check & Connect aims not to solve problems for students, but rather to guide students through the problem solving process so that they can identify solutions that will work for them, as well as practice these skills with adult guidance and feedback, in preparation for successful adult life.
“Don’t Call Them Dropouts” provides an in-depth look at the circumstances and attitudes of students who have not completed high school. It recognizes the struggles of these students, listens intently without preconceived judgments, and recommends interventions that could have helped them, and that can help similar students in the future. Fortunately, Check & Connect incorporates all of its recommendations in our structured mentoring program. Mentors with a minimum two-year commitment to their students work within the school system and with community resources to help guide students through the difficulties they may be facing, and help them identify solutions to their problems and successfully complete high school.
What Are Your Thoughts?
If you’ve read Don’t Call Them Dropouts, what did you find insightful or helpful to you as a mentor? How can you use the recommendations of the report and Check & Connect to keep your students engaged in school?
About the Author: Jana Hallas, M.Ed., is a project coordinator and member of the Check & Connect training team at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.
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