Tucson Program Uses Volunteer Power to Bring Young People Back to School

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What’s Working: These States Are Knocking on Doors to Re-enroll Students. What Happens When They Answer?

This article is part of the “What’s Working” series, which highlights promising practices for helping to close the graduation gap in communities and states across the country.

The headlines go all the way back to 2006, when NBC News reported that adults in Houston were knocking on the doors of young people who had dropped out and encouraging them to return.

Since then, similar approaches have taken root all across the country, and while the local media always covers the community’s hard work and dedication, their success rates don’t always make headlines. In 2012, an Indiana program knocked on more than 5,000 doors, only to have 100 students re-enroll.

So what actually determines if all the door-knocking is worth the effort? The states that would know best have a few words of advice.

Los Angeles: ‘It’s about second, third, fourth, fifth – however many chances it needs’

In the eight years since Los Angeles Unified School District launched its “Student Recovery Day,” California radio station 89.3 KPCC reported in 2016, adults have visited more than 10,000 homes and re-enrolled nearly 5,000 students.

Superintendent Michelle King told 89.3 KPCC that the key is persistence. "It's about second, third, fourth, fifth – however many chances it needs to take – for students to come back. And it's about not only coming back, but us supporting students while they're here to get them to the graduation stage."

South Carolina: Adapt education to meet students’ needs

In Beaufort County, the 2014 outreach started weeks before “Knockout Dropout Day,” when the district re-enrolled about 400 of 600 students through phone calls and emails, the Beaufort Gazette reported.

The district’s efforts went beyond re-enrolling students and extended to understanding why they left in the first place—and then monitoring students and offering services that match their needs.

District officials told the Beaufort Gazette they would also help students find an alternative school or an adult education option when necessary, and then waive registration fees for those who decided to re-enroll.

Houston: Offer meaningful curriculum, a small learning community, personalization

During the 2006-2007 school year, Houston’s “Reach Out to Dropouts” walk convinced 2,280 young people to re-enroll and helped more than 200 of them graduate that May, the Houston Chronicle reported. In 2008, the model spread to five other major cities in the state.

Roberta Tays Cusack, who chaired the initiative when it first started in 2004, told NBC News that re-enrolling students wasn’t the final stretch: “When we bring them back to school, we have to make sure the school will meet their needs — meaningful curriculum, small learning community, personalization.”

Arizona: Prepare with individual information, follow-up, and show you care

Phoenix recently developed the Graduation Highway program after seeing results from Tucson’s Steps to Success, where mayors and local celebrities head door-to-door with school officials and the local community to encourage students to re-enroll.

In the past two years, Tucson has held five walks and re-enrolled 384 students, 64 of whom graduated, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Rachael Tutwiler Fortune, leader of the GradNation State Activation initiative, discovered why this approach works when she participated in a walk earlier this year.

“It’s effective because the teams are prepared with information specific to each student, the school district follows up after the visits with more help and encouragement, and young people respond when adults show them they care.”

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Learn more about the GradNation State Activation initiative

The GradNation State Activation initiative is a collaboration between America’s Promise Alliance and Pearson to increase high school graduation rates by encouraging statewide innovation and collaboration, sharing that knowledge and replicating what works, and developing successful models all states can replicate.