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Family Engagement Key in Preventing High School Dropouts

How do you keep high school students at risk for dropping out engaged and on track to graduate? One way is through improved family and community engagement, says a new toolkit from the Harvard Family Research Project and United Way Worldwide.

The toolkit provides strategies and suggestions for launching initiatives to get parents and community members more involved in their children's academic futures. The recommendations are based on the experiences and lessons learned from a family-engagement initiative supported by the research project and United Way and funded with a $2 million contribution from AT&T. The project supported 15 pilot sites where organizations, families, and schools combined efforts to improve connections between parents and schools.

The toolkit describes how to identify 9th graders who may be on a path to dropping out, solicit community partners and parents for support, and put strategies and practices in place to get at-risk students on a path to graduation.

Case examples of specific efforts to get parents more involved are described, as well as the barriers that parents said made their involvement a challenge, such as language and lack of information. Many of the practices to combat these issues can be used for various types of parent/community-engagement initiatives, not just those targeted to reach at-risk high school students, the researchers say.

Next Thursday, Jennifer Enderlin from AT&T will be moderating a webinar on the successes and challenges of family engagement, the second webinar on the initiative. An archive of the first is available here.

The importance of family and community involvement was also emphasized in a story I wrote, out this week, on college- and career-readiness programs targeted to middle school students. As I describe in the article, one initiative in Columbus, Ohio, brings parents and students together for evening workshops that simultaneously inform parents about the necessary steps to take to ensure their child is college and career ready, as well as to encourage the idea with the students themselves. The GEAR UP program I mentioned also works with parents. I was told some of the parents themselves have been so encouraged by the college-preparation and -readiness efforts, they end up pursuing degrees themselves.

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