FRESNO, Calif. – (October 4, 2023) – They’re part friend, part cheerleader and part problem solver. They are the retention specialists who work in the 85+ Learn4Life public high schools and they have one goal – to identify students who are at risk of dropping out and develop a multi-level approach to re-engage these students.
When Raymond hadn’t shown up at school for a few days and wasn’t responding to calls or texts, Vernon and Ryan, retention specialist team at Learn4Life in Fresno, went to Raymond’s home to see what the problem was. Turns out, an enormous tree had fallen on the apartment complex and it was unlivable, so the family had left. The apartment manager wouldn’t reveal where they had gone, but after some negotiation the team got him to pass along a letter, which finally reached the student. They provided him with a free bus pass so he could travel the farther distance to come back to school.
“We have at least one Student Retention Specialist (SRS) at each school and they are part of a team that includes the student’s teacher, counselor, tutor, principal and other staff involved in their education,” explained Paula Capello, who leads the SRS teams in the Northern California region. “Because we are non-classroom-based, students come into school on varying schedules, so we need to keep a keen eye on if they are missing any appointments with their teachers. Then we can immediately put our process into action to connect with that student.”
October is Dropout Prevention Month because it’s about the time in the school year when struggling students find they are too far behind and have little hope of graduating on time with their classmates – so they drop out.
Research shows that the top three school-related reasons high school students drop out of school are they missed too many school days (43.5%), they thought it would be easier to get a general education diploma (40.5%) and they were getting poor grades or failing school (38%). For family related reasons, the top reasons were pregnancy, parenting or taking care of family members (58%).
Capello points out that it’s a bit different at Learn4Life. When students first enroll, they are assessed and a personalized learning plan is developed for them so they progress by mastering a subject at a pace that works for them. “So, we’re already helping students catch up on credits and gain confidence that they’re on a path to graduate. When they’re struggling in a subject, we get them extra tutoring help, and for parenting students, we have child-friendly classrooms so they can bring their baby to school.”
The main reason Learn4Life students might be challenged to stay in school is because they need to work. The school has a high percentage of low-income and minority students who want to help support their family. Thanks to the school’s flexible schedule, it’s possible to do both, with supportive and creative intervention. “We provide students with free laptops and hotspots so they can complete assignments and check in with their teachers without having to come to campus,” Capello said. “We work around their schedule and surround them in support from teachers, counselors, tutors and other services.”
Engaging adolescents, especially those who have become disengaged and alienated from school, is not an easy task, but the integrated team approach is working for Learn4Life. “High school dropouts commit 75 percent of all crimes and are eight times more likely to be incarcerated,” Capello said. “So, it’s essential that we save as many students as possible.”