Back to School: Exploring Promising Practices for Re-engaging Young People in Secondary Education
Stemming from the Don’t Call Them Dropouts report, based on careful listening to young people who didn’t graduate in four years, America’s Promise Alliance’s Center for Promise released Back to School: Exploring Promising Practices for Re-Engaging Young People in Secondary Education. The paper explores ways to strengthen and expand re-engagement options for young people who need more time or different pathways to finish school.
Despite much progress over the past decade to increase high school graduation rates nationwide, roughly 20 percent of young people, nearly 750,000 a year, are still not walking across the stage to collect their diploma with their peers. An even larger number of young people aged 16-24 – more than two million in total – are not in school and do not yet have a high school diploma. However, even with those sobering numbers, our research tells us that two-thirds of young people who leave school eventually return and complete some sort of degree or equivalency.
The paper is designed as a resource for educators, practitioners, community stakeholders, communications professionals and policymakers interested in supporting out-of-school youth who wish to obtain a high school credential. A high school diploma is by no means a guarantee of success, but failure to complete high school is a devastatingly accurate predictor of lifelong struggle and unrealized human potential. If birth is life’s starting line, then high school graduation is life’s second starting line for success.
What is re-engagement? Re-engagement is the process by which young people who have either left school without graduating or who are at risk of dropping out of school re-connect with systems that allow them to complete a high school diploma or credential, increasing their chances for adult success.
Why are re-engagement programs needed? Holding a high school credential (diploma, GED or Hi-Set) opens the door to additional opportunities, such as college or vocational training. More importantly, re-engagement programs provide access for young adults to caring adults, comprehensive work/life supports, flexible scheduling and individualized coursework that helps to put youth back on track to success.
There are four main routes for young people who wish to re-engage:
• Community-Based Organizations (the focus of this white paper)
• District-Based Programs
• Re-Engagement Centers
• Post-Secondary Partnerships
Strategies for determining how to best educate and support youth through re-engagement:
• Providing educational experiences that fit students’ lives;
• Encouraging supportive relationships with adults and peers;
• Providing reliable, consistent support and connection opportunities;
• Offering work-readiness strategies and practical work experience; and
• Facilitating or providing access to comprehensive support services.
Twelve key areas for consideration when developing, implementing and supporting re-engagement programs focused on positive outcomes for youth:
• Listen to young people’s perspectives and experiences.
• Structure programs to promote individualized attention.
• Maintain a presence in the community.
• Leverage young people’s strengths.
• Leverage local resources.
• Leverage state and/or federal resources.
• Maintain high standards for program completion.
• Utilize and consult a range of evaluation methods.
• Examine both successes and failures.
• Provide students with an ally – a caring adult who can guide them in both their academic and personal lives.
• Work with outreach works who are familiar with the community and have a similar background to the target audience.
• Consider funding streams that support co-location of services.
Conclusion and Next Steps
By providing alternative pathways to a credential, building caring relationships and providing young people with comprehensive life supports, re-engagement programs help young people achieve an education credential that builds qualities such as self-efficacy and self-worth, and foster a transition to the workforce or higher education.
More research is needed to understand which specific elements contribute not only to re-engagement, but also to eventual program completion. Future research will focus on this as well as more deeply describe the characteristics that illustrate who the 20 percent are and how best to optimally support them.
Re-engagement programs included in this paper:
• United Teen Equality Center (Lowell, MA)
• Learning Works Charter School (Los Angeles, CA)
• YO! Baltimore (Baltimore, MD)
• YouthBuild (National organization headquartered in Somerville, MA)
• Job Corps (National organization headquartered in Washington, D.C.)
• Homeboy Industries (Los Angeles and Pasadena, CA)
• E3 Power Centers (Philadelphia, PA)
• Ujamaa Place (St. Paul, MN)
The 5 Promises
The 5 Promises represent conditions children need to achieve adult success. The collective work of the Alliance involves keeping these promises to America’s youth. This article relates to the promises highlighted below: