Primary Sources: Engaging Students, From Grade School to Graduation

Two young people wearing graduation caps and gowns.

Regardless of the method used to measure the nation’s high school dropout rate, researchers agree that too many students are leaving school without the knowledge and skills they need to meet the demands of twenty-first century workplaces and communities. Two new publications emphasize the fact that keeping youth in school is not just about academics. (Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, the Family and Youth Services Bureau or the Administration for Children and Families).

Preventing youth from dropping out requires a comprehensive approach that deals with the myriad issues students face at home, at school and in the community, argue the authors of “Reducing the High School Dropout Rate” (PDF), from the Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Indicator Brief series.  The authors propose five strategies for reducing the dropout rate.

Adopt a long-term approach. Start by improving access to prenatal health care, expanding families’ access to economic resources during early childhood and ensuring high quality early education. In addition, provide support systems for struggling students throughout the school years and strengthen middle schools that feed into high schools with high dropout rates.

Enhance schools’ power to hold students’ interest in school. Make teaching practices more engaging, support students’ resiliency by fostering supportive teacher- and adult-student relationships and establish early warning systems to identify students at risk of dropping out.

Focus on the forces outside of school that contribute to dropping out. For instance, improve access to economic opportunity and work to improve the poorest Americans’ nutrition, health care, safety and access to recreational facilities and learning enrichment programs.

Address the needs of the groups at highest risk of dropping out (low-income youth, boys, Native Americans, Hispanics and African Americans). Inform parents about school supports, social services and community resources available to their families; hire teachers and administrative staff from racial and ethnic groups with higher dropout rates; and offer alternative education, and integrating cultural awareness into educational programs.

Build on the skills and understanding of the adults who affect youths’ motivation and ability to stay in school. These adults include parents, teachers, coaches, friends and parents. Provide parent education and family support programs and teacher education and professional development programs that include strategies for working with at-risk youth.

Students who have good relationships with the adults in their lives may be more likely to feel engaged at school and less likely to drop out, according to a new study, “Parent and Teacher Relationships as Predictors of School Engagement and Functioning Among Low-Income Urban Youth” (published in The Journal of Early Adolescence in June [29(3):376-404]). The study examines the ways in which parent-child and teacher-student relationships contribute to how well middle-school-aged students in a low-income urban environment adjust to school. More than 90 percent of students in the study were Hispanic. The author analyzed students’ attendance and satisfaction with school and found that when youth had good relationships with their parents and teachers, they rated their school engagement—in other words, their willingness to learn and participate academically—more highly.

Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of these and other publications.

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