Students who leave school without a high school degree miss out on a lot of opportunities. Not only does it make it more difficult for them to get a job, but the lack of education can make their lives significantly harder. Over 1 million students in the USA drop out of school every year. Many of these students attend schools where 50% or more of the students never graduate.
This is a huge problem to tackle. Some of the issues are systemic, making this something you can’t always tackle on your own. But there are steps you can take to help more of your students graduate.
What You Can Do
The first step to preventing high student dropout rates is to understand the reasons why so many students are dropping out. One of the huge concerns is that students are not being held accountable by teachers and parents. Schools don’t have the resources to keep up with these failing students, allowing students to fall through the cracks. When students face roadblocks in academic subjects they can lose motivation if they aren’t pushed.
For most dropouts, there is usually some type of tipping point that makes them fall over the edge. This may be a suspension, fight with another student, or a failing grade. But this doesn’t mean dropping out is an impulsive decision; in fact deciding to drop out usually occurs after a long process. Students who drop out usually have been facing problems with school for many years before they leave permanently. Students who drop out more suddenly are usually facing problems at home or mental health issues.
The majority of students who do end up dropping out tend to come from lower-income families and/or have learning challenges. These extra struggles often go un-addressed and contribute to why students end up dropping out.
So what can you do? The first step is to have a way to know when a kid is in danger of dropping out. Keeping an eye on student absences, grades, detentions, and other types of data can go a long way. Don’t write these students off, help them! Students with issues like this may believe that you dislike them. Show them that’s not the case and that you want them to succeed. Give extra individual help.
You also need to try and get parents involved. The older students get, the less involved parents tend to be in their education. Encourage parents to attend conferences, keep up regular email communication, or even do home visits to help keep parents updated.
You can also change up your lesson plans to make them more relevant to your students. Bored, unengaged students are more likely to skip class. You can make any subject relevant to students’ lives using interesting lessons and assignments. Bring in speakers that can relate your topic to current culture. Find ways to make your subjects interesting to students. Just because it is interesting to you, doesn’t mean it is to your students.
Another excellent thing you can do is provide students with community resources. Set up a system so students can get this information anonymously if they wish. Provide pamphlets to local healthcare resources, therapy locations, community centers, and anything else you can think of that can help your students. Encourage service learning, or even make it a requirement in your classroom to get students helping out in the local community. This helps with personal growth but can also be a resume booster for when school is over.
What The School Can Do
These changes can be a huge help to your students, but if the school district makes changes the results will be even better. Creating a plan to address school dropout rates allows schools to create a more personalized plan that works well for their student population.
The first step here is to gather data and get it organized. Keep this information up-to-date at all costs. The most important data that must be kept track of includes attendance rates, discipline records, failing grades, grade repeaters, test results, and graduation trends. This concrete data is easy to gather and can help paint a picture of the problem area of a school.
The next step is to look at the surrounding community. What are the biggest issues in the area? Each community is different and each community affects students in different ways. A poor, rural community is different from a poor urban community, which is different from a community surrounded by expensive shops and restaurants. How can non-profits in this area help your students? What about businesses? Where can students volunteer? Collaboration with the local community is extremely important.
As attendance is the largest indicator that a student is at-risk, much more has to be done when it comes to poor attendance. Punishment is not the answer. Identifying the reason why students are absent is extremely important. Is it due to illness? Do they need to act as a caregiver? Are they being bullied? There’s many reasons for chronic absences, and by tracking down these reasons schools can cultivate different approaches to meet various student needs.
Address the concerns of your students in the community. Show them how a high school education can benefit them in their lives. This is especially important in schools in low-income areas. A school district cannot change the entire community as a whole, but they can make their school a safe space that provides students with resources to create a better life for themselves.
There are many steps individual teachers and entire school districts can take to address the high dropout rate. Don’t let students slip away or be pushed away from school due to poor behavior. They are still children learning their place in the world, and it is your job as an educator to give them all the tools they need to succeed.