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Students' Voices in the Dropout Crisis

No one drops out of school for no reason; every one who drops out leaves for some reason. It may be that they have no pattern or support for graduating in their family history, negative peer influence, problems with bullying, drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, undiagnosed learning disorders, not enough food at home so all they can think about at school is how hungry they are. Many of these problems are systemic and require community investment for change. If in an area teen pregnancy is a particular problem, then more time educating about pregnancy prevention might be a good idea. Other areas have had incredible successes with special educational programs for expectant and new mothers that provide childcare at school for them. If there is a neighborhood where the parents of students are especially non-present, mentors could fill that void and act as a support for the homework, career awareness, and general stresses of high school life.

What should never be a cause for drop out is the thought that high school isn’t necessary. It is essential that students grasp the importance of graduation and applying themselves academically leading to graduation. But, in homes where there is simply not enough time to work the hours required to sustain a living and help with homework, that can be difficult. At GPB’s dropout prevention summit Stop the Drop, a panel of students named the biggest resource available to keep them in school is mentoring. As a group, they listed needing support from adults to give them positive encouragement around school and show them why the classwork – which may be boring or seem unrelated to the world they see – is relevant to their future lives. One student commented, “There is support out there, but it’s hard to find. If the support was looking for us, it would be easier.” They also mentioned needing more counselors in schools who are more invested in them. These students are asking for advice on career counseling, extracurricular activities, and post-secondary options.

We’re telling children early on that they can be anything they want to be. According to this panel, we’re aren’t backing that up with career counseling, options for continuing education, or even a good reason to bother hanging around until graduation. Ask a preschooler or kindergartener what they want to be when they grow up and on four different days you can get at least four different answers. They’re excited that they could be so many different things! At some point, we stopped doing something enough. We stopped playing and pretending, reading, or simply talking. At some point, they’re education seems to stop being about a goal. It stops being fun or related to their interests.

This panel of young people is a very small cohort of a larger, more diverse composite. But, I think they can be trusted in their accuracy. They asked for people to be interested in them. Instead of planning a “thing” for them and asking them to show up, they're asking us to go to where they are and join in. In that way, we can walk with students to their graduation and perhaps avoided having to drag them along.