Don’t Call Them Dropouts: Understanding Experiences of Young People

Posted by America's Promise Alliance on June 2, 2014

What prompts students to leave

A new report from America’s Promise Alliance details experiences that lead youth away from school before graduating. It expressly avoids the term “dropout,” since participants said it doesn’t describe their experience of leaving school, and because most kids surveyed eventually completed their education. Researchers found respondents across 16 cities frequently mentioned 25 factors that influenced decisions about school, including support and guidance from adults, incarceration, family deaths, family heath challenges, gangs, homelessness, school safety, school policies, peer influences, and parenthood. They also indicated common toxicities: violence at home, in school, or in their neighborhoods; personal or family health trauma; and unsafe, unsupportive, or disrespectful school climates and policies. Youth also were often caregivers or wage-earners for ill parents. The presence or absence of connections with parents, family members, school professionals, peers, and participants’ own children drove many choices. The authors argue that students who leave school are stronger than popular opinion and current research describe. These strengths could, with the right supports, allow them to stay in school, and these abilities do help many to re-engage. Young people who leave high school need fewer easy exits and more easy on-ramps back into education. Everyone in a young person’s life and community can do something to help.

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