Serving as a supportive and resourceful connection for young people will help increase their drive to make positive decisions. School professionals should encourage students to graduate high school as a form of empowerment and confidence building.

One in five students did not graduate high school in 2013. Distressing and traumatic experiences destroy student empowerment and deter young people from a positive educational path. A report by America's Promise Alliance and its Center for Promise at Tufts University (sponsored by Target) shares how violence in the home, negative peer influences, family health traumas and unsupportive educational climates create the toxic environments that cause young people to leave high school. Although school professionals may not be able to directly change the complex life circumstances of a young person at home, educators and counselors can provide guidance and acknowledgement that struggling students yearn to have at school.

These words from a Center for Promise interviewee paint the picture:

"Teacher didn't care, principal didn't care... I told my counselor and a couple teachers, but I didn't want to because they didn't care... you know from the way that they come at me on a regular basis... they don't try to talk to me."

Without support, a student's overwhelming circumstances take precedent. School attendance and graduation move down the priority list, poor decisions become commonplace, and distance between the student and an academic role model, or anyone who shows they care, becomes greater. Motivating a student to stay in, return to, or finish school starts with the school professional.

Presenting yourself as a supportive and trustworthy leader who provides resources, choices, and a listening ear, can significantly impact teenage lives. Here are four ways achieving a high school diploma empowers the future of America and how you can help empower high school students to graduate.

1. Aim for Resiliency and Re-engagement

The silver lining of leaving high school and then returning to complete the diploma is the resiliency experienced with re-engagement. Known as "bouncing back," returning to school to earn a high school diploma can be a positive, life-changing achievement.

Re-engaging academically is a character-building experience and can serve as inspiration for meeting long-term goals, like getting a better job or having a positive effect on the community. Along with resiliency, a young person learns about persistence, perseverance, courage, and confidence-embracing these qualities can significantly reshape their lives.

According to, if a student can engage in positive youth development tailored to the unique lives of troubled young people, as well as receive support to help cope with day-to-day challenges, he or she can thrive not only academically, but also socially and emotionally.

Establish a relationship with students who are likely to drop out or who have dropped out. Talk candidly with students about the strengths that have helped them overcome difficult life experiences. Expand their support system by making other positive connections from the community available, such as a sports coach, religious leader, neighbor or local business owner. Just knowing his or her voice is being heard can produce enough empowerment to be resilient, take action and re-engage in education.

2. Stress the Earning Power of a High School Diploma

High school students with monumental at-home demands need a tailored plan for the future. How can you help young people visualize high school goals and beyond with a clear and personalized plan?

The 2012 High School Dropouts in America survey states the absence of parents (23 percent) and becoming a parent (21 percent) as the top reasons for why students drop out of high school. Young people whose parents are absent because of factors like incarceration, drugs, or illness are left to take over household responsibilities and care for younger siblings. As a high schooler transitions into the caretaker role or raises a child, having a job to make money replaces going to school and preparing for the future.

According to "The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts" by John Bridgeland, one-third of high school dropouts quit school to make money at a job to care for a sick family member.

If money is a motivating force to leave high school, money can also be the motivating force to go back. A high school diploma can enable a graduate to work at a higher paying job and move forward to continuing post-secondary education, even college.

At the end of 2013, Business Insider highlighted more than 15 high-paying jobs with an annual salary of at least $61,000 that require no more than a high school diploma. Transportation, storage, and distribution managers earned the number one spot with a median annual wage of $81,830 and 29,100 projected job openings throughout 2022. Other jobs included first-line police and detective supervisors, elevator installers and repairers, and nuclear power reactor operators.

A high school diploma is also an academic gateway tool for gaining a college education and further increasing earning potential. A difference of $830,000 separates the college-educated from those who have completed a high school education, according to the Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco. Investing in a four-year college degree, two-year college degree, or professional certification yields a lifetime of progressive higher earnings and the high school diploma is an essential stepping stone. For example, graduates with a two-year degree can earn a good living with a job as a registered nurse ($55,000 average annual salary), computer support specialist ($46,000 - $60,000), and engineering technicians ($41,000 - $52,000), to name a few.

Flexible online or blended learning options, such as Penn Foster's Dropout Retrieval Solution, enable a young person to earn a diploma at their own pace while still meeting the needs of their family. Options and the ability to make a choice can empower young people to not abandon their education.

3. Fight Against Poverty and Income Inequality

Low-income youth are at high risk for never completing high school, which is just another disconcerting consequence of living in poverty. Poverty is both the cause and effect of the dropout crisis. Not only does poverty cause young people to drop out of high school, but dropping out of high school perpetuates poverty.

In "Fight Poverty: Lower High School Drop Out Rates," researcher John Bridgeland found that in one year, students who leave school are more than twice as likely to fall into poverty compared to their fellow graduates. Interestingly, Bridgeland also reports that nearly 70 percent of his surveyed high school dropouts said a lack of motivation to work hard, higher expectations, and challenging courses led them to call it quits. punctuates the point with this observation: "Education is directly related to the ability to earn enough to stay out of poverty."

Retain students with engaging curriculum and "real-world' learning. Students need to see a connection between a high school diploma and a job, and an education and opportunity. Job Corps, a free education and training program, helps align eligible, low-income students with the curriculum and skills to have a successful career. Administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Job Corps program is designed to use vocational and academic training to improve the quality of life for young people.

Also, use young people as mentors and activists to promote high school education and break the cycle of poverty. Struggling students may be more inclined to trust and listen to youth mentors who can better relate to the challenges and perspectives of their peers.

4. Teach Basic Life Skills

A high school education is not only an opportunity to build character and confidence, earn higher wages, or escape poverty, it helps a teen develop basic life skills-skills as basic as learning how to tie a Windsor knot. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, 48 Warren Harding High School seniors were dismissed from regular classes to engage in workshops designed to teach them about "self-identity, integrity, character and professionalism," reports

For 17-year-old student Tyqwan Gardner, learning about self-expression and the ability to communicate what he wants to do was invaluable. Other workshop themes at the one-day Young Men's "Becoming a Pro" Conference included responsibility, maturity, professionalism, self-esteem, personal appearance, and goal setting, as well as how to self-brand and prepare for college. Students were given an opportunity to describe themselves as "determined, open-minded, and compassionate." It was also a space for opening up about resiliency.

Give students unique attention and a chance to share their experiences through special programs, and you could give a young person inspiration and insight that could change their life forever.


Photo: Gerard, Ned. Orlando Daniel speaks to Harding High School students at the the "Becoming a Pro" program, in Bridgeport, Conn. Digital image. CT Post. Hearst Media Services Connecticut, LLC, 16 May 2014. Web.