Open Letter to Parents: Reversing the Dropout Effect by Dr. Chaun Johnson (Chicago)

Dropout Prevention

The Electronic Urban Report

Looking Past Prevention: Facing the School Dropout Dilemma

Dear Parents,

Each year more than three million students across the country will leave school without earning a high school diploma. Will your child be one of them?

Dropout prevention is a crucial topic of discussion as it relates to the current state of the U.S. educational system. Certainly prevention is key; but once a student has dropped out or stopped attending classes, parents will need to shift the mindset from prevention to begin thinking about re-engagement.

As an educator with more than 16 years of experience working in the City of Chicago, my impetus for writing this letter is to offer re-engagement strategies and dropout recovery advice for parents who find themselves in this difficult situation. When parents are involved, students achieve more academically, regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnic/racial background, or the parents’ education level. Your involvement is the most critical piece and the first step toward success.

Understand the contributing factors. Oftentimes there are multiple factors that have contributed to your child’s decision to drop out of school. Getting to the root of these factors is a necessary initial part of the process and a vital step toward finding a solution. I encourage parents to take an honest and objective look at the situation at home and at school. Make a list of all of the issues that might be creating a barrier to your child’s success; and once this is complete, repeat the process together with your child. Creating an open dialogue while reiterating your desire to see your child succeed is extremely important. There is a direct relationship between family involvement and school completion; and, the extent to which a family encourages learning is often said to be the most accurate predictor of future success.

Convey the consequences. Because high school completion has become a basic prerequisite for many entry-level jobs, as well as higher education, the economic consequences of leaving high school without a diploma are severe. High school dropouts experience higher rates of unemployment, higher rates of incarceration and a higher rate of dependence on social services. Due to lower levels of income and lower levels of job security, high school dropouts face poorer health outcomes and are less likely to receive job-based health insurance.

The facts surrounding the consequences of dropping out of school speak to the devastating reality with little additional elaboration needed. The information is readily available and real life examples are often not beyond reach. The key for parents is to ensure that your child fully understands the heightened level of hardship with which they will be faced throughout his or her life.

Weigh all of the options. When discussing re-enrolling in school, it is very important for parents and students to look at all of the available options. Commonly, students will not want to return to the school from which they have dropped out, and the amount of time needed to catch-up in a traditional school can be a big deterrent. Alternative schools can provide a variety of options that lead to graduation, through programs that pay special attention to the student’s individual social needs and academic requirements for a high school diploma.

For the past year, I have served as the principal of Ombudsman Chicago, a tuition‐free program that caters to students who have fallen behind or dropped out of school. By offering a flexible schedule of morning or afternoon classes and combining online coursework with personal support and face‐to‐face instruction we have seen great success in getting our students back on-track to earning a diploma.

Focus on the future after high school. High school is not the end of the road. Help to emphasize the next chapter of life after high school by working with your child identify post-secondary life goals. List out the steps that will need to be taken, create an action plan and concentrate on these goals instead of focusing on why your child has been previously unsuccessful in school. Most of all, remain positive through this journey and know that there are resources available to help guide along the way.

About Dr. Chaun Johnson
An experienced educator, administrator and advocate for Chicago’s youth, Dr. Chaun Johnson is Senior Principal of Ombudsman Chicago. Ombudsman Chicago is a CPS Options School with three locations in the City of Chicago, specializing in offering out-of-school and off-track youth a second chance at achieving academic success while preparing them for continuing education and a career.

Posted Sept. 30, 2014

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