In the United States, 7,000 high school students drop out every day. That’s more than two kids per minute. In Los Angeles County, dropout rates have improved in the last few years, with a 75% graduation rate in 2016 for LAUSD but while many parents may think it could never happen to their child, if they notice any warning signs, there are ways they can help to turn things around right away.
By Mark K. Claypool & John M. McLaughlin, CEO and Director of Research and Analytics, ChanceLight Behavioral Health, Therapy, and Education
Concerned Your Teen Might Drop Out?
Worried that your high school student is at-risk of dropping out? You’re not alone. Dropping out is a scourge on the nation and heartbreaking for parents who understand the lifelong consequences for their child. Being familiar with the numbers, having a plan, and working with the school can help a parent keep a child from becoming a dropout. Here are some facts and strategies that could come in handy.
Understand that Dropping Out Is a Process, Not an Event: There are about 15 million students enrolled in America’s public high schools. Every year 1.3 million of those kids drop out. That’s a dropout every 26 seconds or 7,000 a day. And that’s a problem. Our nation’s public schools have worked mightily to increase the national graduation rate to 83 percent, with rates varying by state from 69 percent in New Mexico to 91 percent in Iowa. No one wants to see kids quit school and that includes parents, teachers, and employers.
While most students across America have at least one factor that could put them at risk of dropping out, such as being from a single parent family or having a persistent health issue, the more risk factors students have, the more likely they are to drop out. Those at the highest risk of quitting school are understandably from the toughest situations – homeless, impoverished, drug addicted, neglected, abused, exploited, or incarcerated. But there are still hundreds of thousands of teens not faced with such dire conditions with one foot out of the schoolhouse door.
Potential dropouts feel more pushed out of school than pulled away by a better option. The push comes from a lack of success in school that most likely began in the elementary grades and has simply piled up year after year to a point that getting through school, completing a zillion assignments, flunking hundreds of tests, and feeling discouraged day after day adds up to skipping classes, going truant, and fading away from school. Just a few years ago, some states kept their dropout rates low because they wouldn’t consider a student a dropout unless the student completed the paperwork for officially leaving school. But students don’t officially relinquish their enrollment; instead they fade away from school until it becomes much easier to stay away than to go back.
Hit Them With the Facts: While there are exceptions to every generalization (and your child won’t be the exception), high school dropouts are poor; they make less than two-thirds of the money high school graduates make. They have a much higher chance of going to jail; dropping out simply exposes teens to gateways to crime, and the nation’s prisons are filled with dropouts. Dropping out will increase their chances of being homeless, hungry, and exploited. But there’s a good chance you already laid these facts on your teen. So –
Bond With Their Teachers: Meet with your teen’s teachers, counselors, and administrators. Know each of them by name. Express your concern that you fear your child is a potential dropout. The school professionals probably share that concern. Enlist their support, swap emails, and talk about options such as:
- Alternative school programs: More than two-thirds of school districts maintain alternative schools for students at risk of dropping out. These settings often include lower teacher-pupil ratios, shorter school days, and extra encouragement to stay the course.
- Mentoring programs: An increasing number of schools pair at-risk students with adult mentors who reinforce the importance of staying in school and connect students to resources in the community.
- Extra-curricular activities: Sports, clubs, and arts programs work wonders for students where they build their skills in teamwork, share common interests, or find a healthy expression via the arts. It is often these non-academic interests that bind kids to school and move them not only toward graduation but to lifelong passions.
- Jobs and volunteer roles: Whether sacking groceries or helping push wheelchairs to the dining room at a senior center, young people grow in self-respect and maturity when integrated more deeply within the community. They also get lots of new supporters to encourage them to stay in school with casual conversation and questions like “What are your plans after graduation?”
Set an Example: Think of it this way: If you’re worried that your child is going to drop out, you can be certain that it will be easier for him or her to drop out than it will be to stay in school. The easier route is too often the road taken. That truism applies to you as well. Tell your child that if s/he stays in school, you’ll quit smoking or you’ll lose 20 pounds, or, well, you know how best to put some skin in the game. Tackle the problems together. The young one stays in school; the old one shows it’s never too late to make improvements.