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Guest Blog: Intersection of Afterschool and Dropout Prevention

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Guest Blog: Intersection of Afterschool and Dropout Prevention

This guest blog is by Usha Chidamber, a D.C. Schools certified educator and management consultant working on education research and policy issues.

Fall’s familiar sight of yellow school buses ferrying students heralds the start of a new school year of activity, learning and challenges.  For high school seniors the school year brings college applications, senior projects, proms and graduation!  But not for the 1 million students who fail to graduate each year.  Sadly, it’s common to see students skipping school, hanging out at street corners and edging toward juvenile crime.  In support of September being Attendance Awareness Month, the Afterschool Alliance is releasing the issue brief, Preventing Dropouts: The Important Role of Afterschool that shines a light on the national dropout problem and the increasingly important role of afterschool in helping kids stay in school.   

While encouraging progress has been made on increasing the national graduation rate over the last decade (now 78.2 percent), graduation gaps remain among racial minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged students.  Dropping out, first and foremost, represents a significant loss for the individual who drops out.  And for the nation, dropping out represents lost productivity, taxes, earnings, savings, and increased costs due to unemployment and crime.

For the individuals and the nation, how can we intervene to prevent dropouts? 

First, we can focus on the approximately 1,400 schools that produce 40 percent of the dropouts. 

Second, we can use the right tools—early indicators of attendance, behavior and coursework—the ABC’s—to identify potential dropouts as early as elementary school and use targeted intervention strategies such as school-community collaboration, safe learning environments, mentoring, afterschool programs and career training.

Research shows that afterschool is effective in mitigating dropout rates by focusing on the ABC’s.

  • meta-analysis of 68 studies of afterschool programs showed that participating students attended school more regularly, showed improved behavior and received higher grades.
  • study of 3,000 low-income, ethnically diverse students enrolled in high-quality afterschool programs displayed a reduction in aggressive behavior with peers and in risky behaviors like drug and alcohol use.
  • meta-analysis of 35 out-of-school-time studies funded by the Department of Education found that students at risk of failure in reading and math who participated in afterschool programs had positive results on reading achievement in lower elementary grades, and positive effects on math achievement in middle and high school.

Third, recognize and put to work what psychologists and parents know.  We are all familiar with the power of immediate feedback to incentivize child behavior, as in “you can have dessert if you eat your vegetables.”  Afterschool activities such as drama, debate and chess have a quick “effort-performance-success” feedback loop in contrast to traditional learning.  A shorter psychological gratification time-cycle can be a powerful motivator for further success. Afterschool programs may be the dessert that keeps at-risk students in school.  

We can fix this problem.  We have the knowledge, tools and know how.  But…it calls for collective action by all constituents.  We need policy makers—federal, state, local—and private and philanthropic organizations to invest in increased student access to afterschool programs and we need coordinated programming between schools and afterschool programs that ensures regular student participation and groundwork for academic success.

This week, as Attendance Awareness Month comes to a close, let’s decide to get it done for all of the kids. Now.

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