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Effective Programs to Help At-Risk Teenagers Stay in School

by Samantha Kemp

The picture for high school dropouts is dismal: they earn 43 percent less than graduates and are incarcerated twice as frequently as graduates. Additionally, they can be a drag on the economy because they contribute fewer tax dollars and are more likely to rely on the government to subsist. Numerous programs have been established to help at-risk teens accomplish their goals, while also advancing the goals of society.

After-School Programs

After-school programs are those that operate weekly throughout the academic year during nonschool hours and are supervised by adults.They typically offer more than one activity, such as recreation, homework help and arts and crafts. Examples include 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, Girls Inc., and LA’s BEST. Researchers R. Goerge, G.R. Cusick, G. R. M. Wasserman and R. Gladden from the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago and authors of the 2007 study "After-school programs and academic impact: A study of Chicago's after school matters" found that students who participated for a longer period of time in after-school programs had higher graduation rates. Additionally, a 2009 study conducted by Public/Private Ventures found that youth who attended the Boys & Girls Club at least 50 times per year reported that they had higher attendance, increased school effort and fewer negative peers as friends.

First Things First

The First Things First project is a comprehensive school reform that targets at-risk youths in low-performing schools. The core goals are to strengthen student/teacher relationships, reduce class size and make classes more engaging to students. Learning communities are built around themes and common interests. A family advocate meets regularly with a student and monitors the student's progress. Additionally, teachers receive training to make lessons more engaging and work with colleagues to pair their curriculum with local and state standards. The benefits of the program include having higher attendance rates, higher graduation rates and higher test scores in reading and mathematics in schools that use the programs.

Art Programs

Art programs that encourage students to create through learning to play a musical instrument, expressing themselves in plays or making art emphasize the traits of self-discipline, focus and persistence. Some alternative schools that emphasize the arts have demonstrated a strong link to higher graduation rates. For example, the New York Alternative School in Tillson reports an 83 percent graduation rate. At the Boys Choir of Harlem, 98 percent of the students graduate and continue formal education at college.

Career Education

When students have something to hope for, they may try harder. Career education offers students school-based enterprises, internships and apprenticeships, job shadowing and mentoring opportunities in the hope students complete their academic requirements in order to pursue a career of their choosing. One such program is the California Peninsula (Partnership) Academies, a program for 10th to 12th grade at-risk students. Academic and vocational courses, along with job training and connections with local employers, are hallmarks of this program -- as are small classes. A follow-up study was completed on the program and found that the program had about half the dropout rate than similarly-situated students who did not participate in the program.

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