On November 17, we hosted and aired a summit on dropout prevention. Several experts and panelists spoke on the economical and social impacts of dropping out of school. What was, for me, one of the most impactful elements of the day was the Youth Panel, adding a human element beyond the basic numbers, stimulating the audience to think beyond policies.
Five youth and their moderator discussed how difficult it can be to stay in school and what programs and individuals are helpful for this group to maintain the course. The students were candid and courageous in their answers to the moderator and in response to the audience's questions, as well. One question from the audience that still stands out to me was when a gentleman working with at-risk youth asked what the teenagers would do to increase high school retention and success if they had limitless resources. Their answers were 1) increase student interest in education beyond the classroom 2) increase social support for education (i.e. mentors and student groups) and 3) increase support from guidance counselors, including improving the counselor to student ratio and increased career training for counselors at the middle school and high school levels in particular.
They asked for a sense of purpose and camaraderie. Each one was able to name a person (or program run by people) who helped them stay on target. Their answer rang like a challenge to me. I have since begun to show more interest in an after school program at a local church. It isn't much, just having students talk about and tasting whatever food I'm making in the kitchen at the time. But, I know it's a place to start building relationships that might make a real difference.
For ways to help in your area, contact your local United Way or school counselors and ask about mentoring a student.