In recent years, Arizona has led the nation in high school dropout rates; and in Phoenix alone, more than 45,000 young people (16 – 24 years of age) are either not currently enrolled in school or not working. These numbers are startling on paper, but the reality can be even more discouraging for families who find out that they have become a part of the statistic. As an educator with more than 15 years of experience working with at-risk teens, I have seen first-hand what works and what does not. It has been my experience that parents who are able to take an open and objective approach are most successful in reengaging their children and getting back on track. My advice is as follows:
1. Ask the Right Questions: For many students, falling behind in school and ultimately making the decision to drop out can be linked to a number of contributing factors. For parents, getting to the root cause of these factors is the first step toward finding a solution. Be objective, be honest and encourage your child to be open about the obstacles they face. There is a direct relationship between family involvement and school completion; and, when parents and students collaborate to reach a solution that addresses the core problem, the chances for future success are vastly increased.
2. Communicate the Value of an Education: Negative statistics surrounding the consequences of dropping out of high school are abundant, but we know that adolescents respond best to positive reinforcement. While it is important for teens to understand the consequences of dropping out, it is equally as vital to understand the value of a diploma.
High school completion has become a mandatory for many entry-level jobs, as well as higher education. High school graduates experience higher rates of employment, lower rates of incarceration and a lower rate of dependence on social services. Due to higher levels of income and higher levels of job security, high school graduates tend to have better health outcomes and are more likely to receive job-based health insurance.
3. Understand Your Child’s Learning Style: To set a child up for success, it is extremely important for parents and teachers to identify the student’s strengths, challenges and any special needs. As someone who struggled with a learning disability throughout my youth and into my early collegiate years, this piece of advice is extremely personal to me. Each child learns differently, and unmet learning needs frequently result in negative behaviors such as truancy or disruptiveness in the classroom. These negative behaviors can result in disciplinary action for the student, and can sometimes even lead students to drop out.
4. Weigh all of the Options to Find the Right Fit: When discussing re-enrolling in school, it is key to assess all of the available options – and in Arizona, the alternative education options are abundant. Revisit the contributing factors that led to dropping out, and determine if the programs available will help to accommodate the student’s needs.
Typically, students do not want to return to their previous school; and, the amount of time needed to catch up in a traditional high school can be a big deterrent. Alternative schools can provide a variety of options that lead to graduation through programs that pay special attention to the student’s individual social needs and academic requirements for a high school diploma. In my role as the director of Ombudsman Charter Metro, I have seen the dramatic improvements students can make when they are in the right environment.
At Ombudsman, we offer students a flexible schedule of morning or afternoon classes. Each session is four hours long, which is beneficial for our students who are young parents or are working full time. Our centers provide a safe environment where students are respectful of one another as they learn through classroom instruction and independently in a technology-rich environment.
5. Focus on the Future: High school is not the end of the road. Help to emphasize the next chapter of life after high school and work with your child to create some life goals. From there, try to list out the steps that will need to be taken, and where you will need more information or outside help. Most importantly, learn from the past and stay positive as you look to the future.
About Jamual Bohannon
An experienced educator and youth advocate, Jamual Bohannon is Director of Ombudsman Charter Metro. With locations throughout Arizona, Ombudsman Charter Schools offer collaborative learning programs, personalized instruction from caring teachers, small class sizes and flexible scheduling. Ombudsman Charter Schools also help students who need to earn additional credits, who are at risk of dropping out or who have dropped out of school and want to return and earn their diploma.