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How Schools Handle At-Risk Students & Education

by Van Thompson

At-risk students are those who, due to environmental circumstances, family history, developmental issues or behavioral problems, are at increased risk of dropping out of school, performing poorly, or experiencing or contributing to violence. There's no single method all schools use for dealing with at-risk students, and some schools have better policies and procedures for helping students at risk than others. Effective strategies include early detection of at-risk status, early intervention, proper teacher training and excellent alternative educational programs.

At-Risk Status

Students who are at risk might have a variety of problems. Some may be children with developmental delays such as autism or mental health disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder. Environmental and family issues such as extreme poverty, a parent's substance abuse or incarceration or a history of abuse can also increase a student's risk of dropping out, having trouble at school and behavioral problems. Teen pregnancy, substance abuse, excessive drinking, a history of arrests or learning disabilities can also put students at risk.

At-Risk Assessments

Most teachers receive a basic background in developmental milestones, educational strategies, behavioral problems and warning signs as part of their degrees and teacher certification. In many schools, a teacher is the first point of contact for at-risk students, and teachers may notify principals, parents or school counselors of a student's problems. Behavioral assessments, counseling services, personality testing and similar measures can all help assess a student's risk. Student self-reports of abuse, trauma, addiction and similar issues can also provide schools with a window into a student's at-risk status.

Early Intervention

Early intervention is key for helping at-risk students because it ensures that they don't experience a snowball effect of cascading problems. Particularly with young children, early intervention services -- such as counseling, medication, family services, placement with a guardian, school lunch programs and tutoring -- can help offset the effects of a host of problems. Most schools try to detect at-risk students early and institute programs and plans to help them before problems get out of control. These programs may require parental involvement by enrolling a child in counseling or helping a child get medication, or they may be completely school-based, such as tutoring programs or support groups.

Resources and Treatment

Many schools offer in-school resource programs for at-risk students. For example, pregnant students might attend special classes that teach them to cope with parenting while finishing school. Students with special needs may get extra tutoring or participate in special needs programs. Students who have problems at home might get in-school counseling, or the school might call child protective services. Some schools have more programs than others, and schools that are ill-equipped to handle students who are at risk may refer students to outside services or recommend a transfer to another school.

Alternative Education

Some schools are designed specifically for at-risk students. They may include special high schools for students who have dropped out or missed too many classes and schools for students with a history of behavioral or legal problems. Some school districts place special needs students into special needs schools. Private schools are also an option; some are available for students with unique educational needs, disabilities, a history of behavior problems or mental health issues.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.