The Need of Program Development to Prevent High School Drop Outs for at Risk Populations (by Guest Blogger Angel Lightner)

This post is based on the community work and writing that the author has been doing in WR 122 at Portland Community College.  The piece of public writing is loosely based on a research question and research collection the author developed.  The public writing is a chance to use one’s writing to become part of the larger community dialogue about issues in the chosen theme.

AngelBlogPicture2The Public Writing

Dear the State Board of Education Chair,

The national crisis of the strikingly high drop out rates from high schools – in addition to educational budget cuts – have concerned me to research and seek out successful and affordable mechanisms that exist or need to be developed for drop out prevention.

For two Springs, I have had the pleasure of providing community service to Parkrose High School in North East Portland by tutoring science subjects, working in classrooms, chaperoning field trips, and speaking to over one-hundred at-risk students about my life experiences, and college. PHS has a program called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) that serves as elective credits to students who are at-risk by main contributing factors associated with dropping out of school: low socio-economic status, English not as their primary language, lower education levels of their families, and minority race/ethnicity. AVID serves to help prepare these students every year for their future in college by teaching them interpersonal, life, and college preparation skills, such as about financial aid and applying for scholarships; things I never learned about in high school. AVID also provides after school activities and weekend field trips, many of which these at-risk teens and their families are unable to afford and are slim to exist due to budget cuts. A similar program, ELP (Effective Learning Program) exists in Kentucky public schools; a program that serves as elective credits to help teach students about personal responsibility and build their personal relationships and educational success and in-turn, their self-esteem. ELP exists solely on fundraising.

I am writing today to state that these programs need to exist at every public institution. It is the duty of the community to support their public schools by helping fundraise for these programs, and dedicate their time being transparent and sharing their stories in hopes to move a student so much that it changes their outlook on their future. Although I was not considered an at-risk student, I nearly dropped out of high school at one point, and now I am entering medical school to become a physician. My story sung to so many students; they look up to me and trust me. Similarly, it is the duty of an educational institution to provide successful programs and the rightly balanced curriculum that allows guest speakers, student thought, and the ability to interact and build healthy relationships with each other and adults; as currently, too much time is dedicated to regurgitating information, and not enough to college preparation or building life-skills.

As the Board of Education, you have the power to reach out to the community and ask for their time and financial support, and to create these programs and curricular changes needed in public schools so we can close the gap between these at risk students and their peers.


Angel Lightner

The Research Question & Collection

Introduction and Question

AngelBlogPicture1My interests in research were multi-faceted. First, what types of programs exist that are successful at identifying at risk students and preventing high school drop outs; and secondly, how can these programs be supported and funded? The research that I did consisted of identifying the at risk of dropping out populations of students, how some institutions in lower socioeconomic groups are dealing with the budget cuts while trying to close the gap between their students and of similar aged students in different communities, and lastly, what successful programs currently exist that seek out these at risk students, and help propel them to their future. I chose this subject because for two Spring’s I have worked at a Portland High School with a similar program, AVID, and I believe it to be extremely useful. I will be writing to the State Board of Education about how these kinds of programs should exist at every institution, and how the simple outreach to the community or simple changes in high school and college curriculum can aid this transformation of closing the gap between these at risk students and their peers.

Research Collection & Annotations

1.  Henry, Trisha. “ADHD teens more likely to drop out.” Cable News Network. 12 March 2013.

A study done at University of California, Davis has found that students who have ADHD or are involved in using alcohol, smoking, and other drugs are among higher risks of students to drop out of high school. The current national dropout rate, per the study, is about 1/3 of students. This suggests a socioeconomic difference of people who are more healthy than others starts early in life, and it is important for parents and teachers to cultivate an environment that parents know how their student is doing and behaving in school, and for parents to be advocates for their children’s health and choices to produce better educational outcomes.

This article, although short, illuminates on a few important points in researching how we can better support our children in successfully obtaining an education as a community as a whole. First, parents need to be more involved in how their students are doing in school, not only in grades, but their attention and behavioral aspects. Teachers need to be equally involved in informing parents; although students are more independent, they are still children and a report card twice a term does not engage enough their parents and how they are actually preforming in school. I think that this is where a lot of the separation lies – we treat students in school like we treat people in jobs, when we need to be supporting and engaging in this education piece so that they can be independent and get a viable job in the future. They need to be more importantly involved in how they are doing outside of school, and they need to be these role models that they want their children to emulate. There needs to be more manpower available in schools to help students go in the right direction, whether it is more people to lookout for students who are having a hard time concentrating and working with them more, more people to help kids from leaving school to skip class or smoke.

2.  Feyerick, Deborah. “How much is too much for education cuts?” Cable News Network. 12 March 2013.

In 2008, there was a state plan in New Jersey to help close the learning gap between rich and poor students, when shortly after, the governor cut one billion dollars from the education budget. One particular school that serves underserved children dealt with these budget cuts by keeping “reading coaches” and instead, letting go of people who are not associated with the students primary education, such as janitors and nurses. The principal of the school states that when students know that they are unable to read, they general start acting out, and this may lead to future dropping out of school out of frustration and behavioral issues. He believes these are the students that need to be protected.

This report is important because it has been established that children from lower socioeconomic groups tend to not be ready for school in comparison to other children. Any means like these “reading coaches” that would be useful to get and keep children up to speed, despite their family and socioeconomic status are extremely important, in my opinion. Children that are behind in the basic tactics to succeed as a student and a member of society are going to continue falling more behind, and this not only needs to be prevented, but there needs to be better mechanisms in place to catch these disparities early. This translates to high school aged students, of which I am studying, because education through the years builds on itself and it would be helpful if their struggle was addressed in earlier years, but high school are the last and most powerful years to make an impact on a child for their future. Teenagers have a developing pre-frontal cortex, it causes them to make irrational and emotional decisions, with the combination of this and the age of new found independence, teens are more likely to get frustrated with education and quit. A similar idea of “reading coaches” can translate to teens in high school. I believe that all schools, but high schools in particular, need to be better staffed with young adults and adults who can serve as both education and life coaches. If there were more bodies that could help these students succeed in school when they’re struggling, it may help the national drop out rates. Building relationships with other young adults, and having teens be able to see the transparency of others life experiences, successes and failures; building personal but professional relationships with them will allow teens to build more stable and healthy relationships and positive role models. Moreover, they can relate to people who have potentially been in their situation. Extra hands to help tutoring and students in school speaks for its importance in itself. The best part about this idea is that this help is potentially free. I became involved in working similarly with high school students through a college course that required a community service requirement. For the community to expect the best from the public schools, they should feel an obligation to provide these kinds of support for the students and teachers who are overwhelmed. There is no immediate way to fix the lack of funds; there are ways to reach out to the public and advertise the importance of community involvement to help fill these gaps.

3. Nowicki, Stephen, et al. “Reducing the Drop-Out Rates of At Risk High School Students: The Effective Learning Program (ELP). Genetic, Social, & General Psychology Monographs. (2004). 225-239. Print.

There are five major demographic indicators of at risk students for dropping out of school; poverty, race/ethnicity, family configuration, parental education, and English not as dominant language. Drop out rates for low socioeconomic status students are 25%, while poverty is three times more likely among African American and Hispanic families. As these are interrelated, it’s observed that students from low income families who drop out of school continue to stay in that socioeconomic status, continuing poverty and the high risk rates of high school drop outs in future generations. Most programs that are created take into account how long it takes to make a societal change, so they are more locally focused. Studies have shown that the more the students are engaged in school, the better they do in school and the less likely they are to drop out of high school. Two personality traits, locus of control and self-esteem, play significant roles in low income high school student success rates. Moreover, students with poor relationships with students and teachers at school tend to be higher risk. The Effective Learning Program (ELP) was created to help target these students and developing these personality traits healthily, by showing students that they are in control of their life including relationships. Learn language relationships, nonverbal communication, and hope that students become more friendly, less dominant, better readers of emotion. ELP classes have lower student-teacher ratio’s, and is led by fundraising, and aided by a few student-teachers.  ELP took field trips and stayed in deep contact with parents and other institution administrators, which in the long term, aided in fewer absences and had a 98% graduation rate in comparison to 38% graduation rate of similar students who did not participate in ELP.

This study is so important on multiple levels. First, programs like these target the at risk students, a definition that we have already determined. It takes these students in and mentors them in not only educational subjects, but more importantly, the development of themselves and their personal characteristics that will make them more successful people in the future. A large complaint is that there are continual budget cuts and that there is a gap between minority and impoverished students in comparison to the others. Programs like ELP and a similar one, AVID at Parkrose High School, help to grow a deeper connection between students and their peers, teachers, future, and their experiences in school. By spending more one-on-one time with these students and building positive relationships at school, there are more people who care about the student success, and hopefully they start to care about it more as well. Building better relationships, knowing that people care about you, doing better in school and getting praised for it help students build true self esteem. I also think that student-teachers are very important people to have in the classroom, along with younger college students. These students are young enough that they can relate to high schoolers, but old enough that they can be looked at as role models in the next potential steps of these students lives. The fact that these programs can exist through fundraising should speak to the fact that they are simple to install and maintain. If the community and college students around schools were more involved with high schoolers and their success, I think that would build a better and more supportive web for these at risk students. More of these programs need to be developed and put in to schools, as there is an obvious payoff in students showing up, engaging, and success rates. AVID at PHS has a similar program – they have a class period and workshops for Freshman-Seniors where they give them assignments, teach them about college such as financial aid and scholarship writing, have guest speakers (including myself), and take weekend field trips, and put on positive, fun, and athletic events after school. I have seen firsthand the positive effects these practices have on some of these at risk teens. Cultivating an environment that has a daily reminder of their future will eventually make most of these students come around, and eventually develop better interpersonal skills and get a better idea of the real world and their future. Many of them are interested in my life experiences, and I think it’s important for these students to see transparency and that it is possible for people who are like them or come from similar backgrounds can indeed succeed.


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