How to Get High School Dropouts into 'Recovery'? Ideas Bloom across US

By Khadaroo, Stacy Teicher | The Christian Science Monitor, January 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

How to Get High School Dropouts into 'Recovery'? Ideas Bloom across US


Khadaroo, Stacy Teicher, The Christian Science Monitor


Cydmarie Quinones dropped out of Boston's English High School in May 2011 senior year. "It was the usual boyfriend story," she says. "You put so much attention into your relationship ... that it kind of messes up the whole school thing."

Six classes shy of the credits she needed, she thought that she could skip getting a diploma and still find a college that would train her to be a medical assistant.

"I've been doing nothin' for a whole year," Ms. Quinones says. Actually, she's been running into walls spending hundreds of dollars on in-person and online programs that made false promises to get her a high school credential. Meanwhile, her friends graduated and went on to college, including her boyfriend. This fall, she says he told her, " 'I can't have a girlfriend that didn't do nothin' in life.' " So she decided, "OK ... I have to do it for myself and for everybody else.... I have to get my diploma."

Nationally, about 600,000 students drop out of high school in a given year. And more than 5.8 million 16-to-24-year-olds are "disconnected" not in school and not working. In 2011, governmental support (such as food stamps) and lost tax revenues associated with disconnected youths cost taxpayers more than $93.7 billion, according to Measure of America, an initiative of the Social Science Research Council, a nonprofit based in New York.

"Education has become so key to getting into the labor market [that] we call dropping out 'committing economic suicide' at this point," says Kathy Hamilton, youth transitions director for the Boston Private Industry Council, which partners with the school district to run the Boston Re-Engagement Center (REC), a hub for helping dropouts like Quinones complete their education.

Dropout prevention has been in the spotlight in recent years. But increasingly, school districts are also realizing that they can do more to bring young adults back into the fold.

It's called "dropout recovery," with districts deploying a host of strategies from door-to-door searches for dropouts to alternative schools where people earn free college credits while taking their final high school courses. The efforts are taking place in dozens of cities ranging from Camden, N.J., to Alamo, Texas.

America has "long had a forgiving education system, where people can come back at any time to complete a diploma or finish a degree, but we haven't been structured to reach out and reengage youth who have dropped out," says Elizabeth Grant, chief of staff in the US Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. "As educators across the country saw more-accurate graduation and dropout numbers and recognized the size of the challenge, our school systems started to get more responsive."

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The US Department of Education launched the High School Graduation Initiative in 2010 to support school districts doing dropout prevention and recovery work. Competitive grants were given out to 27 districts and two states, for a total of just under $50 million.

A personalized approach

At least 15 cities have organized stand-alone reengagement centers. They offer a one-stop, personalized case-management approach bringing together schools, private businesses, workforce- development experts, and other partners to try to reconnect young adults with a promising future.

Since 2008, New York City's centers have reenrolled about 17,000 students, and the centers in Newark, N.J., have brought back 3,900, according to the National League of Cities.

Staff members at Boston's REC listen to each student's story, share struggles from their own school days, help them find the right school or alternative program to fit their needs, and stay in touch once they've reenrolled.

That's what won the trust of Quinones. In November she started coming every weekday to take online credit recovery courses at the REC, a bare-bones set of offices and computer labs with inspirational posters. …

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