In Kansas, New Effort to Focus on Keeping Kids in School

by Nancy Peterson
K-State Research and Extension News Media Services

While families are focusing on a flurry of back-to-school activities and settling into the new school year, one group of Kansans is working hard to see that students who go to school will stay in school.

“Students drop out of school for a variety of reasons,” said Elaine Johannes, Kansas State University Research and Extension youth development specialist and member of a state work group working to reduce the state’s dropout rate.

The work group is supporting the Kansas Commission on Graduation and Dropout Prevention and Recovery initiated by an executive order from Gov. Mark Parkinson, she said.

Kansas’ highest number of dropouts has been reported in Wichita, Kansas City, Shawnee Mission, Topeka, Lawrence,and Salina, yet suburban and rural areas also can be vulnerable, Johannes said.

Determining dropout rates is complicated by class sizes in urban and suburban schools that draw students from a larger population, and,

also, by how school districts determine if a student has actually dropped out versus moved or transferred, she said.

While drop out rates are calculated differently, it’s probably more important to understand the factors that push students to drop out of school, Johannes said.

And, while the failure-to-graduate rate affects school funding and may also mean that fewer skilled workers will be available in the community, the failure to earn a diploma is apt to have lifelong consequences for the young person.

School dropouts often will have more difficulty in obtaining (and retaining) stable employment, less earning power and are more likely to be involved with drugs and alcohol, she said.

“Early signs that a student may be at risk for not completing high school can become apparent in earlier grades,” said Johannes. A 2010 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported that failure to read proficiently by the end of third grade is linked to higher rates of school dropout.

Johannes also said that lack of parental support and encouragement is thought to be a key factor in a child’s decision to drop out of school. Other contributing factors include:

  • Child needed to get a job to help his or her family financially;
  • Boredom; child not challenged or engaged;
  • Teen pregnancy, and
  • Frequent family moves, adjustment to new schools, and loss of credits in transferring from district to district, state to state.

“Children need to know that their parents (and other adults in their lives) value education and support their school work,” Johannes said.

Reinforcement from the community also is important, said the youth development specialist, who explained that something as simple as hosting a back-to-school picnic matters.

Community programs and organizations that support youth development and nurture a sense of belonging and a can-do attitude in children and teens also support education, said Johannes, who cited Kansas 4-H, Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other after-school programs as examples.

The school environment is a factor in retaining students, said Johannes, who noted that a teacher or mentor’s interest can go a long way in helping a student retain his or her interest in school work.

Children need to be engaged and made to feel worthwhile, said Johannes, who explained that experiential learning (also called learn-by-doing) in the school or community can help to engage students.

If a student has a passion for a career, a job, or has shown skills in certain areas, then adults in the community can help that young person build those interests while encouraging them to stay in school, Johannes said. For example, if a student wants to be a mechanic, then the local auto parts store owner can establish an apprenticeship program with the local high school’s body shop teacher.

“The idea,” said Johannes, “is to hone in on a student’s interests and help him or her develop them.”

And, while parents are encouraged to see that their children are enrolled and attend school regularly, attending parent-teacher conferences to learn about their child’s progress and how to support the educational process is recommended, she said.

“Stay involved,” said Johannes, who noted that parental interest in supporting children in lower grades often diminishes as children move into middle and high school.

“Kids need to know their parents are interested,” she said.

Helping a child to explore his or her interests and set attainable goals (related to the interests) can help to motivate a child to stay in school, the youth development specialist said. Preparing a child for the workforce will help the child build his or her life, fuel economic development and recovery, and also likely lower overall costs of assistance needed within communities down the road.

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Posted by on Sep 4 2010. Filed under County News, Schools, The Vindicator. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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