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Surviving as a High School Dropout: Program Gives Students a Taste

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FutureUncertain.jpgWhen students drop out of high school, they often don't realize how rough life could be without a diploma. A program that's making its way into schools in several states aims to give them a sobering glimpse of that life, in the hope of informing their decisions.

It's called REALL, or Reality Enrichment And Life Lessons. The program draws students into a four-hour simulation in which they take on a new identity as someone who left school without a diploma. Aided by trained facilitators, the students act out a series of life experiences, such as trouble finding work, difficulty making ends meet on a low-paying job, or getting evicted.

In the second half of the program, students adopt a new identity, this time as someone who finished high school or went on to college. Then they divide into small groups to discuss the contrasts between the two experiences. You can get a quick glance of what REALL does by watching this video.

REALL was developed in 2010 by the Ozark Area Community Action Corp., a community services agency in Missouri. Since the first simulation took place in 2011 in Springfield, Mo., the program has expanded to many counties in Missouri, as well as schools in Arkansas, Kansas, and California, said Jamie Deckard, one of REALL's project coordinators.

In Missouri, community action agencies purchase the REALL program kit from the Ozark Area agency, and then send staff members to a two-day training. Those staff members then conduct the three-hour sessions at schools that are interested. Schools pay nothing for the program; the only charge is to the agencies that buy the kit and take the training, Deckard said.

Similar programs are designed to expose young people to other life choices, such as becoming parents while they're still in school or dropping out of high school. But most show only the difficult side of the formula, without the contrast of the positive outcomes that can accompany better life choices, Deckard said.

"We think our program helps students see and experience what it's like to graduate from high school, have money to pay their bills, and have a little extra at the end of the month," she said. "They're living it, so we think that makes a difference."

The program is targeted at students from low-income families. Some groups that purchase the program also add another layer to it: helping students lay out career goals and plan their education beyond high school, and advising them about financial aid and scholarships to college.

"This is the third year we've had the kit, and we think it's been really beneficial for our students," said Linda Fritz, the county services program director of the North East Community Action Corporation, which has conducted 50 to 60 REALL trainings at schools in its 12-county zone of Missouri.


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