By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
At a recent meeting in downtown Washington, I heard an expert on teenage high school dropout prevention talk about new strategies for keeping kids in school or luring them back after they’ve dropped out. The expert told us that in some of the worst schools – “dropout factories” (schools where 60 percent or more of children graduate) most common in high poverty rural areas and inner cities – as many as 70 percent of the students drop out.
This issue touches the National Consumers League’s issues in several ways. First, it was the mission of Florence Kelley, our first leader, to get kids out of sweatshops, factories, steel mills, and mines and into school. Dropping out flies in the face of those fundamental goals. Secondly, NCL has a teenage financial literacy and consumer education program for teens called LifeSmarts, but most of our youngsters compete through their schools. As a result, kids who drop out have little chance of being able to benefit from all of the wonderful and practical education that LifeSmarts provides.
Finally, NCL is working hard to pass legislation that will provide rights and protections to farmworker kids. These children suffer much higher than average dropout rates. Their families travel from farm to farm, often in different states, picking crops; understandably these youngsters have a hard time staying in one school and graduating with their peers. The dropout rates for farmworker kids are perilously high. We need to have strategies to keep those kids engaged, learning, and graduating from high school.
In Minneapolis, the school system has launched the “We Want You Back” campaign, in which volunteers go door-to-door. In the Little Earth community in Minneapolis, largely American Indian, the graduation rate is a shocking 22 percent. The Minneapolis campaign is modeled on a Houston, Texas drive that has successfully brought 50-100 dropouts back to schools – which can include online courses, independent study or actual schools – each year. Dropouts need to feel wanted and valued and see a pathway to their degrees. According to one volunteer, “it’s news to people that we care.”
We at NCL support campaigns to keep kids in school and bring back into the fold those who’ve dropped out. These young people deserve all the support we can give them, and when they succeed, we can only believe they will be better informed and wiser consumers and citizens.