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dropout prevention

Why Dropout Prevention Month feels different this year

  • Danielle Stangler
  • October 1, 2019

When we first engaged in the fight to end the dropout epidemic—more than a decade ago—we often struggled to find school districts that had an active anti-dropout program. 

Everybody said they worked to prevent dropouts. And, in most cases, it was true. They were working hard to keep students from leaving

But here’s the thing: Sometimes, no matter how hard these districts were working, some students were still leaving before earning a diploma. At that point, very little (and nothing at all in some cases) was being done to get them back. After all, it was no longer a prevention issue.

As Dropout Prevention Month rolls around again, we have reason to celebrate. These days, it’s hard to find a district, anywhere, that doesn’t have programs in place to not only prevent at-risk learners from leaving, but also to provide those who have left an opportunity to re-enroll.

This represents a huge shift in mindset that we believe is among the most important changes in approach for dealing with opportunity youth in the past quarter century. It’s tremendously exciting to see. 

As you might imagine, though, there’s still a lot of work to do. Just as was the case all those years ago, there are still students who are leaving, and who aren’t finding their way back to school (even though research shows that the vast majority want to return!)

How do we know? Part of our work involves providing services to people who have aged out of K-12 education, including lots of people in their early 20s. Nearly universally, these individuals tell us they knew they wanted to return to school almost immediately after leaving, but didn’t know how to do it – and couldn’t without flexibility as attending the traditional brick and mortar school wasn’t an option for them.

There’s a disconnect here: Almost every district has some form of dropout recovery, but it’s not reaching every student who wishes to return. 

What can school leaders do about that? One big start is to simply recognize a basic fact: What works for one student won’t work for every student. Just like there is a need for multiple pathways to a diploma for students who stay continuously enrolled in school — including special education, remedial courses, summer school, honors programs and advanced placement courses — students need multiple pathways to return, too.  

That’s why Graduation Alliance leaders never ask school districts to trade out one program for another. If something is working to re-engage lost students, we don’t want you to  abandon that. 

But until we’re ensuring that every lost student has a path back, we all need to keep working – and you can start today by examining whether you can help even more students get back on the path to graduation.  

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Graduation Alliance helps create alternative paths for individuals who need flexibility and support to earn a diploma. From providing laptops and internet service to multiple layers of online and in person support. We understand each student needs an individual pathway to graduations and we are here to help.