Unfortunately, not all high school students are set up for success. Many students who struggle at school come from challenging circumstances at home, and others are facing hardships such as the death of a parent, homelessness or addiction that threaten their ability to finish high school. The national high school dropout rate, while improving, is still a crisis - according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 7,000 students drop out every day1. High school staff and administrators need to support students who are facing such hardships and enable them to succeed in high school and move into post-secondary education.

The first thing to do: Intervene early. Identify students who display signs of despondency in the classroom. Look for sudden changes of behavior and personality, falling grades and other signs of disengagement. Support these students with encouragement and guide them to a school counselor, and then follow up with these eight steps:

  1. Commit to a mission: A mission statement serves as a foundation for staff and faculty to follow. Instructors can motivate students to succeed and stay focused on the ultimate goal of the institution. Facets of an effective mission may include positive relationships, scheduling flexibility, student empowerment, a culture of success, and development of social skills for coping. Here is an example of a mission statement pulled from Medford School District in Massachusetts:
The Medford Public Schools is a caring educational partnership of school, family and community designed to ensure that all students are afforded a safe and healthy learning environment in which they develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to reach their full academic and personal potential. This partnership is dedicated to providing all students with a 21st-century education that will enable them to be life-long learners and contributors to a diverse and rapidly changing world.
  1. Set up a boot camp: Involve at-risk students in a six-week boot camp designed to inspire, motivate and re-engage them in their education. The program should validate their self-worth, help them adopt positive social and communication skills and foster personal connections.

  2. Create a supportive, family environment: Students enduring personal hardships need to know they are part of a bigger entity. Create a nurturing learning space that promotes trust and acceptance and encourages relationships between staff and students.

  3. Provide opportunities for short-term, immediate success: Often, students who struggle in class because of negative outside circumstances start to lose confidence and doubt that they can persevere until graduation. Provide these students with small opportunities to succeed and believe in their abilities, such as earning a partial credit or completing a special project, and applaud their efforts.

  4. Empower students with a pledge for success: Students enduring personal struggles may feel down, discouraged and hopeless. Empower these students by asking them to make a pledge of commitment, and include short-term and long-term expectations and promises in the pledge. Identify this pledge as a social contract between the instructor and student that can be used as a reference during periods of lost momentum.

  5. Create realistic pathways to reachable goals: Advise students on their interests and a possible college major. Students may have unrealistic career goals because of a lack of knowledge about the current workforce and support from home. Present relevant majors and career paths in growing industries with a high demand for workers. These career possibilities should also align with the student's interests, talents, abilities, and potential.

  6. Offer learning alternatives: Students who are facing adversity often need additional flexibility to stay in school. Online courses, hybrid learning, and a high school completion alternative can provide students with that needed flexibility to achieve success.

  7. Teach College 101: For students to become college-ready, they must first believe that they have what it takes to graduate from high school and actually enroll in college. Create a College 101 program that informs students about higher education, from learning about financial options to visiting campuses.


Recommended for You: How To Improve Students' Lives Through Community Collaboration

Resources: Photo credit. (1) Dropout Prevention and Recovery