Monday, November 17, 2008

New student-led program aims at dropouts

Faced with nearly half of Chicago Public Schools freshmen dropping out before they graduate, education leaders plan to announce Thursday a student-led program to help struggling students at eight high schools.

The initiative is the brainchild of a group of students that looked at the problem during the last year and calls for setting up individual plans to keep students in school, setting up retreats to help them stay focused on graduating and having students review curriculum to make it more meaningful.

It comes after more than 52 Chicago high school students spent the last year surveying more than 1,325 students and hundreds of parents and teachers about the district's dropout problem.

The group found that students blamed themselves for dropping out of school. Nearly one-quarter said a lack of motivation or laziness by students was the main reason for the high dropout rate. Many others said teenage pregnancy was another issue.

But when pressed by the student researchers, the survey found that students said they were not being engaged or motivated by teachers or the curriculum. They also cited safety concerns, said Hennessy Williams, a Kenwood Academy junior who helped conduct the surveys.

"When you encourage somebody, they can go a long way. When we were doing our interviews that's what was mostly coming up --that they wanted some support," said Williams, 18.

Williams and the other students worked as part of Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, a coalition of youth leaders from community organizations and high schools throughout the city.

The program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the non-profit Communities for Public Education Reform, took students to districts in five other states. The high schools taking part in the test program are Dyett, Gage Park, Kelly, Kelvyn Park, Kenwood, Perspectives, Roosevelt and Senn.

Among the initiatives, the program asks schools to develop leadership teams made of students working with adults to offer student input on issues. They will conduct focus groups to review curriculum and textbooks to make them more relevant, officials said.

The schools will offer retreats three times a year to struggling freshmen who have been identified by teachers, principals or other students. Students will get one-on-one counseling from teachers, counselors and upperclassmen to help develop four-year plans with the goal of graduating high school.


Sherman Dorn said...

I have two reactions to this: 1) about time, and 2) here we go again. The dominant construction of dropping out is something we've inherited from the 1960s, and while I wish I could say I've seen effective interventions that have popped up anew since Creating the Dropout came out 12 years ago, that would be dishonest of me.

Yet asking students to help design or make interventions work makes sense. It has some documented successes in health (anti-smoking campaigns and peer-education in sex education), and there is a large literature on peer tutoring (some effective, some not). Since attrition from school is a complex phenomenon, I suspect there may be some things students can do remarkably well in keeping peers in school, but not others. The $64 million question is which is which.

Aaron Schutz said...

You've pretty much captured my concerns/hopes. I also, as usual, have questions about how far this can go as a "cooperative" effort between students and administration. It's not like what the students are saying is rocket science, or particularly new.

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