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Board Meetings

February 20, 2007

The Early School Leavers Report

Early School Leavers: Understanding the Lived Reality of Student Disengagement from Secondary School
Summary of Findings and Recommendations

Investigative Team/Authors:
Dr. Bruce Ferguson – The Hospital for Sick Children  
Dr. Kate Tilleczek – Laurentian University;
Dr. Katherine Boydell – The Hospital for Sick Children  
Dr. Joanna Anneke Rummens - The Hospital for Sick Children

Early school leaving is the result of a long process of disengagement and alienation that may be preceded by less severe types of withdrawal such as truancy and course failures.

An early school leaver is typically defined as a student who leaves school before they graduate with a regular diploma.

Three types of early school leavers have been identified (Smink & Schargel, 2004):
        Dropouts are youth who are actively leaving or who have already left school
Tune-outs are students who remain in school but have disengaged from learning; unless  they interrupt class or cause problems, they are tolerated or ignored.
Pushouts are youth who leave school because they have been suspended or expelled;  they do not fit easily into the system, and thus are encouraged or told to leave school.

An at high risk student is a youth unlikely to graduate on schedule with the skills and the self-esteem necessary to have meaningful options in the areas of work, leisure, culture, civic affairs and relationships. Risk status fluctuates over time, based on circumstances and contexts, and is not a fixed quality. For example, periods of transition can increase risk.

School Related Risk Factors:

ineffective discipline system (one perceived to be unfair and/or arbitrary)
lack of adequate counselling/referral to appropriate agencies
negative school climate (ex. Discrimination, negative student-teacher relationships, school policies that prevent youth from expressing themselves as responsible adults, teachers who fail to recognize the critical role they play in students’ academic motivation and outcomes).
relevance of curriculum (monotonous school environment with no apparent connection to adolescents’ experiences; curriculum that fails to acknowledge the contributions/experiences/history of minority groups, poor quality and superficial curriculum)
passive instructional strategies (traditional teaching methods that “teach from the book”, not allowing youth to select any of their own materials, not formulating links between the learning in the classroom, existing community issues and the real world)
disregard of student learning styles

School Related Protective Factors include:
•     school engagement
•     high educational aspirations and expectations
•     teaching styles that are supportive and inclusive
•     parental involvement (in school and the general life of the youth)
•     moderate youth employment (10-15 hours per week)

General Recommendations for working with and responding more effectively to youth include:
•     recognizing and involving the strengths, abilities, and energy of youth;
•     providing youth with opportunities for decision-making and meeting their future goals;
•     educating involved adults about the value of youth and the most effective ways of working with them;
•     respecting the rights of youth to be treated fairly and with respect.

Key Recommendations:

1.      Be more understanding!
•     Listen to what students have to say;
•     Understand the complex “youth culture” your students live in;
•     Recognize the impact of various forms of racism, discrimination, and bullying;
•     Operate under principles of respect and fairness; accept different lifestyles and life plans; and
•     Take acquisition of cultural competence seriously (i.e. provide adequate teacher training).

To provide a foundation for a supportive learning environment, schools need to be places where all students feel welcome, respected, encouraged, as well as psychologically and physically safe.

2.      Be more flexible!
It is essential to continuously examine our implementation of ‘rules’ to ascertain that we are not putting up unintended barriers to youth success. Suggestions include:
•     take into account the adult roles of youth;
•     develop local curriculum (fitting local job pathways, providing relevance and appropriateness for different cultural groups, meeting individual needs);
•     innovative, interactive and personalized instructional strategies;
•     develop disciplinary alternatives to suspension/expulsion;
•     build links with the community (agencies, organizations, groups, businesses);
•     consider the fit between school structure and adolescent development (need for sleep, brain development);
•     include a broad offering of extra-curricular activities; and
•     expand alternative approaches to school structure.

3.      Be more proactive!
Youth specifically pointed out that relationships with teachers and school administrators were often crucial  protective or risk factors.
•     be proactive when youth start to disengage from school;
•     provide sufficient and appropriate resources for assessment, counselling, and needed interventions;
•     develop better communication with parents and seek ways to increase parent involvement in schools;
•     improve teacher skills at monitoring student understanding/ progress;
•     create inter-sectoral partnerships to support poor and troubled youth (i.e. those with mental health problems, substance abuse issues, involvement with the law, family difficulties, or in the   care of child aid agencies) to stay in school;
•     encourage a culture in which youth feel they ‘belong’ within schools; and
•     find ways to use school facilities for homework help and mentoring.

“It’s like, there needs to be a forum where people can be like, okay, you’re my teacher; I’ve got to be able to say, you know what? Things aren’t working well for me at home.”

Perhaps the most important of all is the need to recognize, support, and build upon youths’ own hopes and aspirations.

Ultimately it is essential that parents and teachers, school administrators and boards, community members and policymakers recognize that the key to economic development and a civic society is education. Education has a primary role in a youth’s ability to acquire social capital, access career opportunities and fully avail themselves of life chances.

Summary prepared by Velvet Rollin, Student Success Teacher, Grey Highlands Secondary School

Submitted to:
Bluewater District School Board
20 February 2007
For more information please contact
Alana Murray, Superintendent of Secondary Education


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