Reduce America’s High School Dropout Rate with Service Learning

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Far too many young adults in America drop out of school.  An article about the high school dropout rate from CNN provides some shocking statistics, despite educational efforts and reforms:
“Nearly 6.2 million students in the United States between the ages of 16 and 24 in 2007 dropped out of high school, fueling what a report released Tuesday called “a persistent high school dropout crisis.”

The total represents 16 percent of all people in the United States in that age range in 2007. Most of the dropouts were Latino or black, according to a report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Alternative Schools Network in Chicago, Illinois.”

Data also shows us how dropping out of high school effects young people over their lifetimes.  They experience high rates of unemployment, an increased chance of being incarcerated, of living in poverty and on welfare.  The personal and societal costs of dropping out of high school are devastatingly high and we must do all we can to help young adults stay in school.

While I was writing Change the World with Service Learning:  How to Organize, Lead and Assess Service Learning Projectsir 8 I was thrilled (but not surprised) to find a variety of data that showed how service learning can close the achievement gap in America’s schools.  Instead of cookie cutter, shallow drill for skill type programs, schools that choose to do service learning saw amazing gains in student achievement, including a lessening of high school dropout rates. To quote from the book:

“When considering the motivation of young people to stay in school, despite challenges and serious risk factors, one high school dropout put it succinctly in the report The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts.

One bright young woman who was a leader in her focus group said: “If they related to me more and understand that at that point in time, my life was…what I was going through, where I lived, where I came from. Who knows? That book might have been in my book bag. I might have bought a book bag and done some work.”

Eighty-one percent of survey respondents said that if schools provided opportunities for real-world learning (internships, service learning projects, and other opportunities), it would have improved the students’ chances of graduating from high school. Outside studies have noted that clarifying the links between schools and getting a job may convince more students to stay in school. (Bridgeland, J., DiIulio, J., Jr., & Morison, K., 2006).”

Schools can make this change while meeting grade level expectations and improving test scores.  Instead of more canned programs where teachers merely read a script, we need to engage our students in higher level, critical thinking, real life learning that connects them to their communities and teaches them relevant, life long skills.

To learn how to create, plan, and lead service learning projects, please pick up Change the World with Service Learning:  How to Organize, Lead and Assess Service Learning Projectsir 8 by Katy Farber, published by Rowman Littlefield Education.

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