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Preventing School Dropouts

The phenomenon of school dropouts is a major social problem that is especially serious among youth with learning disabilities and serious emotional disturbance (SED). However, educators are demonstrating effective programs that reach out to families and encourage students to stay in school and graduate.

Voices of Experience - A Mother's Thanks

" Thank you for the help you have given my
daughter Gabriela. At first, Gabriela did not
want to come because she thought this was a
program for dummies. Later she realized that
she was improving and that this program was
good for her. By participating in this program
she was able to see things clearly. This year she
experienced a great change. She stopped being
truant and started to pay more attention to her
studies. Her grades have improved. Now she
does not want to be absent from school. I think
that programs like this should be in all schools"
(Thurlow, Christenson, Sinclair, Evelo, &
Thornton, 1995).

Long-Term Commitment

Students at high risk for dropping out, typically, have a history of academic and behavioral problems. In an effort to establish positive school ties for each student, exemplary programs:

  • establish a curriculum emphasizing skill acquisition and focus on the individual academic and social needs of each student,
  • provide ongoing counseling, including opportunities for students to learn about proper behavior (rather than only punishing inappropriate behavior),
  • facilitate students' active participation in sports, talent shows, and other school-sponsored extramural activities, and
  • systematically monitor the progress of each student toward graduation.

Outreach and Support for Families

Families represent a valuable source of support for school programs. Exemplary programs include several innovative practices that enlist families' active involvement. These:

  • enable families to be partners with teachers in educating their children,
  • value and address the diversity of families, and
  • form family support groups and assist parents in accessing needed services.

Increased Staff Collaboration and Ongoing Professional Development

Voices of Experience - A Principal's Vision

"The dropout prevention project is highly beneficial
to [our school] in particular and to the school
district in general. We are providing services to our
students that encompass their whole lives and the
development of lifetime self-advocacy skills. I want
to stress the importance of taking a long-range
perspective on the dropout issue and to endorse the
need to carry on the effort of keeping students
engaged in school throughout their high school
program" (Thurlow et al., 1995).

School staff need administrative support and encouragement to continue to reach out to high risk youth. Typically, there are few tangible rewards for working with challenging youth. Alternatives to increase staff collaboration and professional development, suggested by exemplary programs, include:

provide strong administrative leadership and a consistent vision of program goals, encourage a multi-disciplinary and "teaming" approach to instruction, coordinate school-wide rules and expectations for student behavior, and provide ongoing staff development and support.


Christenson, S., Sinclair, M., Thurlow, M., & Evelo, D. (1995, December). Tip the balance: Policies & practices that influence school engagement for youth at high risk for dropping out. ABC Dropout Prevention & Intervention Series. Washington, DC: US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

Evelo, D., Sinclair, M., Hurley, C., Christenson, S., & Thurlow, M. (1996, March). Keeping kids in school: Using Check & Connect for dropout prevention. Institute on Community Integration (UAP). The College of Education & Human Development: University of Minnesota.

Thurlow, M., Christenson, S., Sinclair, M., Evelo, D., & Thornton, H. (1995, December). Staying in school: Strategies for middle school students with learning and emotional disabilities. ABC Dropout Prevention and Intervention Series. Washington, DC: US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, 15-16.


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2000 Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice