GradNation-Don’t Quit On Me!

No affiliation, just spreading the word. Maybe it will help.

Check out the just-issued GradNation / America’s Promise report “Don’t Quit on Me” which explores the causes behind US students leaving high school early. The full report and summary are both here. The 20-pager is great, if the full 80-page report scares you. I weighed re-stating report highlights but no value added. You’ll either be on the bus or you’re happy hanging out at the station. Invest in a few clicks before you decide.

For starters, a story that brought this issue into focus for me, just last week. I was teaching at the alternative high school, working with students who for whatever reason have issues with traditional education and are high risk for leaving school. Behind my desk is a life-sized poster of John Wayne with the caption “Don’t much like quitters, son.” When The Duke talks you listen up, Pilgrim…except most teenagers don’t know who he was.
“Ashley” is a 17 year old student. In the morning meeting, a teacher reported that she had asked him if he knew anything about getting paycheck loan advances. A big red flag, so he spent some time talking with her.
Ashley’s father was helping her make ends meet but he just left the country with his girlfriend. Her mother had been sharing the apartment and expenses but moved out, she’s no longer in the picture. Ashley’s two teenage room mates have no job, no income. She doesn’t have food or money for car insurance or rent. She said “I don’t want to quit school, but I need to work more hours.”
True story Seventeen.. Students leaving their education and their future behind is not just a big city issue, it’s right here in my small community of 15,000. Ashley’s story is too close to home. This is something WE CAN IMPACT, even “little” things matter.

Make a Difference—Don’t Quit on Me!

What’s at stake? (US data) The social and economic impact of young people leaving school without a degree is huge.

  • More than 485,000 young people leave high school each year before earning a diploma, severely limiting their options for further education and sustainable employment.
  • Those who leave and don’t return to school will remain less likely to get a job. Those who do will earn far less, pay fewer taxes and will be more likely to require social services. They are more likely to be involved with the justice system. They will live shorter, less healthy and less fulfilling lives.
  • Young people who don’t graduate from high school aren’t qualified to serve in our armed forces and are far less likely to vote.
  • The financial cost to society for just one cohort of young people who leave school without graduating can be calculated in billions of dollars.

Graduation matters now more than ever — not just for young people’s futures, but for our country’s future. Interrupted enrollment contributes to a host of social and economic issues. Too many young people are disenfranchised, disengaged—not just from the education system but from society, from any hope for a meaningful future.

There are few opportunities like this for one person to make a huge difference. This is a triple win: (1) individuals benefit at two levels-certainly young people but also their volunteer mentors; (2) private sector supporters stand to gain bottom line improvements, enhanced community status, sustainability; (3) society will see increased civic and economic well-being, citizens will experience enhanced quality of life.

Social well-being and economic prosperity all in one…that’s appealing to me, how about you?

Recommendations
Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about since reading this report. As you review the report I hope you’ll consider these and critique, and add your own ideas as well.

(one) Recruit and develop private sector champions. First, build a compelling business case. Business leaders like to see that. Focus on the huge payback potential for those companies that step up. Next, provide organizations with a user-friendly, comprehensive process and tools, and offer ongoing support and coordination. Operations leaders like to see a workable plan and process. Build it, they will come. But we have to make it feasible and as painless as possible for them to commit their time and resources.
Leaders, you have an army at your disposal ready to commit to the fight. This has huge appeal, a great potential to satisfy the basic human need to make a difference. It’s more than your civic duty, more than CSR, more than servant leadership. This is a powerful strategy to ensure your sustainability!

(two) USE predictive data to take preventive, proactive measures. I’m a problem resolution / continuous improvement practitioner. I live by “don’t wait for something to break before taking action, it’s much easier and less messy to make the repair before the damage is done!” The report tells us a good deal. We know the key predictors. We have buckets of data and anecdotal information too. We NEED predictive analysis, we need to take proactive action, providing help before the need. Before it may be too late.

(three) Tending to relationships is typically an afterthought in both business and in education. Relationships are an essential success factor for youth in education, for big kids in the workplace too. Yet, the report indicates relationship poverty is bankrupting us and my private sector experience says the same thing. We need help! The report provides links to all kinds of online relationship-building resources but I’m adamant about this. Think about it: interpersonal skills development requires an interpersonal touch to be effective. Provide the highest quality in-person relationship-building / interpersonal skills training and development: mentoring, coaching, listening, the art of empathy, building trust, weaving the safety net. Focus on the unique needs of the target: youth from the specific demographic most needing the support relationships provide.

This can’t be done half-way, relationships are the most critical need and we need experts. By the way, the right training product can be marketed to the private sector. The need is huge.

About “Relationships”
We’re not talking about Big Brother / Big Sister on steroids. It’s much more, much less at the same time. At-risk youth need a stable adult in their life, someone they can count on. Mostly, they need someone who can help them tap into a larger support / assistance network. This means that the adult mentor may need to do some initial legwork to find resources, if their community does not have a network in place.
Beyond that at-risk youth may simply need guidance to stay on track and above all an understanding ear, someone who respects and doesn’t judge them.

(four) The report calls for individuals to start a conversation with others, company, church, civic group, card club, student peer groups. Develop quality resources, materials and support for champions to successfully convince their organization to take action. Then, provide a process, structure, material support referenced in recommendation one.

In Closing…the Four Recommendations
WE need kids to stay in school (see data!). Many at-risk young people simply need a support net, stable and trusting, non judgmental relationship built on respect with an adult they can count on. Potential mentors need development of the necessary special skill set. This can (must!) be a broad-based effort with a lot of people pitching in just a little.

EACH ONE of us can make a difference, one pebble one pond at a time.

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