– Randall Flanery, Ph.D., psychologist
Nationally, 70 percent of students graduate on time with a high school diploma. That leaves 30 percent struggling to finish and often dropping out of school. Many school districts have found innovative ways to keep these kids in class.
Kids fall behind in school for lots of reasons.
“I was never paying attention in class because I was just distracted, hanging around with friends,” says Jose, 17.
“More than half the time I’d still be stuck, like ‘wait a minute, I still don’t’ understand this.’ And when I’d go home and do the homework I couldn’t do it because I couldn’t understand the material,” says Jennifer Smith, 18.
If they fall too far behind, some kids will just give up.
“I was just waiting to turn 16, get out of high school, and I don’t know from there,” says Jose.
A study from Columbia University has confirmed an idea that many school districts have been experimenting with for years: if you challenge potential dropouts with tougher class work, they’re not only more likely to graduate, but to go on to college as well. Experts say it’s all about setting expectations.
“Expectations are a very important tool in trying to improve performance. If you don’t set goals, you won’t feel bad, but neither will you achieve high goals,” says Randall Flanery, Ph.D., psychologist.
“It does not take a long time before these kids see they are making good grades, they’re going on college field trips. You see a lot of incentives there. They are doing fun things so it is okay to be smart. They have the potential and they just really need that boost,” says Barbara Smith, eastern division director, AVID Program.
Expectations and incentives give students who really want it a second chance.
“Now I’m actually trying to graduate, to go to college — at least a technical school … and get a little degree in something,” says Jose.
“Just keep at it. Like the old saying, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’” says Smith.
Tips for Parents
- Schools need to establish relationships with various health and social agencies in their communities so students with disciplinary problems who require assistance are readily referred and communication lines between these agencies and schools are established. (The American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP)
- Students and their families should be encouraged by school staff members to access health care and social services.
- A full assessment for social, medical, and mental health problems by a pediatrician (or other providers of care for children and youth) is recommended for all school-referred students who have been suspended or expelled. The evaluation should be designed to ascertain factors that may underlie the student’s behaviors and health risks and to provide a recommendation on how a child may better adapt to his or her school environment. (AAP)
- Matters related to safety and supervision should be explored with parents whenever their child is barred from attending school. This includes but is not limited to screening parents by history for presence of household guns. (AAP)
- Pediatricians should advocate to the local school district on behalf of the child so that he or she is reintroduced into a supportive and supervised school environment. (AAP)
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)