Recovering student dropouts is no easy task. Never mind the complexities of creating a dropout recovery program, the recruitment process alone is fraught with obstacles that can ground a school district initiative before it even has a chance to succeed. But with proper planning, student re-engagement programs can bring students back into a learning environment and put them on the path to graduation. To make that journey possible, three challenges must be overcome:
Raising the Recovery Program’s Profile
A study of dropout recovery programs in California found that a major reason initiatives failed to meet goals was the fact that students were simply not aware of the programs. Despite there being no shortage of dropouts, many programs were unable to fill open seats.
Effective programs reach out to potential students through multiple channels, including friends, family members, neighbors, and local community-based organizations—and targeted outreach strategies should be designed for each avenue of re-engagement.
Outdated Student Contact Information
Tied closely with the first challenge, and arguably a contributor to it, is the fact that school districts’ contact lists are rarely—if ever—complete or fully accurate. Aggravating this challenge is the fact that students with inaccurate contact information are more likely to be the ones dropout recovery programs need to reach.
While there are many reasons why students drop out, one common reason is because they moved away from a school or bus line. Highly mobile populations, including migrant students and those in foster care, are also vulnerable to dropping out. These students can be particularly difficult to locate given their unpredictable living situations.
While it’s not glamorous work, the hard and tedious job of collecting, checking and updating student contact information—at least once each year if not multiple times a year—is vital.
Negative Associations the Students or Their Families Have with School
Even if a program reaches a student dropout, there is no guarantee of successful re-engagement. That’s because students who have left school before graduating often carry negative associations with a specific school or learning environments in general.
This challenge can be further confounded by English language literacy and Special Education needs. By no fault of the student, these issues can cause immense frustration and poor academic performance. Students and parents may not even be aware of the root cause of these problems and blame the student or the school. Programs without a customized curriculum for English language learners or for students with learning disabilities—both of which are over-represented among at-risk student populations—are unlikely to keep them enrolled long-term.
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