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Check and Connect logo.

Curbing high school dropout rates

From eNews, August 19, 2004

One high school student drops out every nine seconds, according to the Children's Defense Fund. Those most likely to drop out live in single-parent homes and attend large urban schools, reports the National Center for Education Statistics. And dropout rates are highest among students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

"Dropout statistics are particularly alarming because jobs that pay living wages have virtually disappeared for youth without a high school diploma," says Sandra Christenson, professor of school psychology in the College of Education and Human Development.

Christenson and her colleagues have been studying school completion for more than 12 years through a program they developed called "Check & Connect."

The program is aimed at students who have been identified as at-risk for dropping out or school failure, and it's designed to improve student engagement at school through relationship building, problem solving, and persistence. The three main components of the program are a mentor who works with students and families for a minimum of two years; regular checks on school adjustment, behavior, and educational progress; and timely interventions to re-establish and maintain the student's connection to school and to enhance the student's social and academic competence.

"A piece of Check & Connect that is invaluable is the idea of building a relationship between the mentor and student over time," says Christine Hurley.

In one study that followed students through ninth grade, 91 percent of Check & Connect students, versus 70 percent of those not involved in the program, had persisted in school. Of the Check & Connect group, 68 percent were on track to complete high school within five years, compared to 29 percent of their peers. The Check & Connect program has also demonstrated improved attendance rates for students in elementary schools.

Students in the program also appear to take more responsibility for their own learning. When 150 urban ninth graders were randomly assigned to Check & Connect or control groups and followed for four years, researchers found that the Check & Connect students were more likely to access alternative educational programs that better fit their needs and to be involved in their own educational planning.

"A piece of Check & Connect that is invaluable is the idea of building a relationship between the mentor and student over time," says Christine Hurley, a school psychologist with the Stillwater school district. "That way no one falls through the cracks. If a student moves to a different school, the mentor follows. It's also very important that the program focuses on the variables that can be changed. Some of the factors that lead [students] to drop out are not malleable. Others are, and those are the ones we work with." Hurley will be implementing some aspects of the Check & Connect program with students in her schools.

To learn more about the Check & Connect program, see From the original story in ResearchWorks, a publication by the College of Education and Human Development.

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