How to Prevent At-Risk Students From Becoming Dropouts

image of rebellious girl in classroom.

Russell was a good junior high school student with passing grades at 12 and 13 years old, but he started hanging out with the wrong crowd in high school. His family moved several times during those years, and he dropped out of high school at 16. He found a few jobs, working at gas stations, construction, and a convenience store through his early 20s, but never stayed at one job for more than six months, and never made more than slightly above minimum wage.

He is one of hundreds of thousands of high school students in the U.S. who drop out every year. In fact, almost 25 percent of U.S. high school students drop out before graduating, according to, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education. High school dropouts have fewer opportunities and earn less money. The University of North Carolina Urban Institute reports that the average annual wage for high school dropouts is $19,540, compared to $27,380 for high school graduates, and $46,930 for those who complete four years of college.

Preventing High School Dropout

The National Education Association (NEA) provides a 12-point plan to ensure higher rates of high school graduates and to help individual at-risk students to graduate. The publication, “Preventing Future High School Dropouts,” that targets at-risk students starting as early as preschool. The most at-risk groups are low-income families, students from “hyper-segregated” communities (100 percent black, for example), English-language learners, homeless children and children in foster care. The NEA stresses the importance of community involvement to help these students.

Early Intervention

The National Dropout Prevention Network website provides guidelines for early intervention that include family engagement, early literacy, mentoring, alternative schooling and career and technology education as alternatives to traditional high school settings. The supportive, trusting relationship developed through mentoring is stabilizing for teenagers who are indecisive about completing their secondary and college educations. Tutoring, with the emphasis on one-on-one instruction is of value for students having difficulties with core subjects such as reading and math.

Alternative High Schools

Online secondary schools offer flexible schedules, especially for students who have had to deal with negative peer pressure, large class sizes, bullying, and inferior school performance. Look for a school that has been accredited, which means it is regulated by a governing agency for quality. The online high school diploma program at offers vocational programs in health care, technology and the building trades, which means graduates receive diplomas and job training.

To be successful in an online educational program, students must develop good study habits, which include developing a study plan, goal setting, establishing a daily routine for study and effective time-management.

The Power of Mentoring

Big Brothers/Big Sisters is a mentoring program that matches adults with at-risk students. The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network reports that children who have been mentored through the program have shown lower rates of drug use, skipping classes, and fighting with other kids. They also find that almost half of the students skipped less school, got into less trouble and improved relationships.

If Russell had a mentor who listened to his problems, held him accountable for his actions and offered emotional support through tougher times, he might have had a better chance. One to two hours a week can make a lifetime difference to one student.

Posted by CJ Newton, MA, Editor on October 17, 2013 at 05:00 AM

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