A Study of High School Dropout Prevention and At-Risk Ninth Graders' Role Models and Motivations for School Completion

Article excerpt

Introduction

This study describes the results of a research evaluation of a school dropout prevention program and adolescents' self-reported perceptions of their motivations and role models. The program was a partnership between an urban university and an urban school district that was designed to prevent 9th grade students from dropping out of high school. It included tutoring, personal development, summer enrichment, and parental involvement. Students in this district are at significant risk of dropping out of school, as the four-year graduation rate from 9th grade to 12th grade was approximately 50%, compared to a statewide graduation rate of 76 percent.

This substantial relative decline occurs during the critical transition period in adolescent development, which further demonstrates the need to provide academic support to at-risk students. School transitions are difficult and have been associated in past research with decreased self-esteem, involvement in activities, and grade point average (Cantin & Boivin, 2004). This is especially problematic when transitioning to high school, as the academic, organizational, and social demands increase significantly, typically disproportionately to the amount of support that adolescents receive for developing these skills. Many youngsters, including inner city youth, likely would benefit from a less complex and more intimate school structure (Entwisle, 1990) that is more secure, predictable, and responsive. Drop out is the most devastating consequence of youths' frustration with the demands of schooling. In addition to being frustrated, environmental stressors (e.g., neighborhood) may contribute to the youths' dropping out of high school (Crowder & South, 2003).

Drop-out prevention is an important area of study because society's cost for individuals who drop out of high school can be estimated into billions of dollars (Rouse, 2005; Buckley, Storino, & Sarni, 2003). Funding aimed at crime prevention, prosecution programs, welfare programs and unemployment programs can be extremely costly (Buckley, Storino, & Sarni, 2003). It becomes imperative for researchers to examine factors associated with dropping out of school as well as those factors associated with dropout prevention. School programs that are designed to reduce dropout rates would clearly benefit all stake holders, including policy makers, educators, and families alike, as well as society as a whole (Christenson & Thurlow, 2004).

Urban school children have approached a crisis point in terms of needs that are going unmet (Rice & Roelke, 2003). Policy makers and education officials have been working continuously to address some of the unique needs faced by urban school children (Goertz & Stiefel, 1998; Hunter, 2000). These unique needs vary. They include but are not limited to a breakdown of community structure, violence, gang activity, poor housing, and poverty (Levine and Lezotte, 1990). Research has shown that poverty is related to school disengagement (Guo, Wilson & Corbett, 2001). In addition to the unique needs faced by urban school children, there are factors that have been associated with school dropout. For example, these characteristics include but are not limited to poor academic performance, low socioeconomic status (SES), and children who display behavioral problems (Phelan, 1992).

Strategies have been identified that could assist with drop-out prevention. For example, Azzam (2007) identified strategies that school officials could take to assist with high school dropout prevention. Many academic recommendations were made including integrating experiential learning. Schools must make learning more engaging and help students understand the connection between the world of work and school. Varied instructional styles to accommodate a host of learning styles should be integrated into teaching. Adding support mechanisms for academically struggling students is imperative. …