From dropout to diploma: The key to high school re-enrollment | Carol Cleveland

From dropout to diploma: The key to high school re-enrollment | Carol Cleveland


Hi. For the past seven years, I have had the
luxury of being the principal of Washington State’s largest dropout
re-engagement program for 16-21 year olds. Call me crazy, but I want to enroll all
the high school students who have left high school
without a diploma or are projected to not graduate by age 21
for whatever reason. Taking on the responsibility to tease out
the talent and potential in these students have been exciting, rewarding,
challenging, and exhausting all at once. What a rollercoaster of emotions, right? After working with thousands of high
school dropouts firsthand, I have determined three key ingredients
to student educational success: offer students individualized supports,
a variety of credential options with opportunity for shared ownership,
and authentic conversations. This provides students with the
flexibility, clarity, motivation, and hope to succeed. and it forces them to walk to the beat of
their own drums. For years, kids say they’ve been given
cookie cutter options, and were expected to do what they
were told with little buy in. While this works for some,
it doesn’t for many. Here’s an example of why we need to
offer students individualized supports, a buffet of credential options instead
of a prescribed five course meal, and opportunity for real open
conversation. A student named Juan expressed interest
in enrolling in our school. He felt like our school was uniquely
positioned to positively influence his
life immediately with long-term college career
and life-ready impacts. You see, Juan dropped out of a nearby high
school at age 16 because he had adult responsibilities that
served as a barrier to his attendance. Because he lived in poverty and his mother
worked a lot, he was responsible for taking care of his
younger siblings and getting them to and from school. Also, he needed to make money to put
food on the table. Juan felt like folks really didn’t
understand his challenges or cared enough to listen and really help. He felt like he was caught up in a
school system that didn’t meet his needs. He heard that we could offer high school
equivalency diploma, high school diploma, industry certifications, and
two-year college degree for free. And he could earn course credit while
working, and flex his schedule around
his family and learning needs. Juan heard others say that we
not only say we care we show kids we care and really help them. Juan submitted the necessary
paperwork for entry considerations, but what Juan didn’t know is that
his application was stalled for academic and behavior reasons. Juan was invited to meet with me. He was told to come prepared to discuss
his prior behavior, his needs, his commitment to move forward, and hear
about our school expectations, our resources, and my leadership style. A decision regarding his entry would be
made at the meeting. I greeted Mr. Juan and brought him back
to my office. I told him that I wanted to see him in
person to have real, open conversations about some of the things I saw in
his disciplinary records. I told him many principals would look at
his records and say, (laughter) “I don’t think so.” Further, I told him I want to enroll him
in my school, but I have concerns around his
decision-making and around safety. I told him kids can’t learn in
an unsafe environment. Further, I added that I had concerns
regarding his laundry list of infractions that involved him not following the
directions of adults, not going to class as scheduled, arriving to school high, and fighting. I asked him, “Is this you?” Juan admitted to doing some stupid stuff. He also shared that there were times when
he moved around a lot. Also, he indicated that he didn’t have a
place to lay his head or food to eat. He admitted to hanging out with the wrong
crowds, who influenced some of his
poor decision-making. Most importantly, he owned his prior
behavior, and indicated that he was ready to change
and move forward. He said he was going to be a father and he
needed to help finding a job. He added, “I’m not a bad person. You won’t
have any problems out of me.” I thanked Juan for sharing, and I
summarized what I thought I heard. I told Juan that I want him in my school,
and I believe that he can be successful. I added, I’m not gonna
be arguing with you, you’re not going to be laying
hands around here I’m going to hold it down with security. I gave him individualized instructions and
told him, if you have a problem with a teacher, I want you to have a conversation at the
appropriate time and in the right tone. We role-played what that looks
like and sounds like. We also role-played other scenarios, to ensure that Juan understood
his escape options and that he knew fighting
was not allowed. I asked him if he could handle my
expectations, and he said he could. I fist bumped him, and told him it’s not
gonna be easy, but we’re gonna make it happen. Juan received individualized instructions
as his next steps. He was told to chat with a social worker
about housing, food, clothes, and bills. Also, he was told to chat with the school
counselor about the high school equivalency
credential pathway and job training courses. He was encouraged to meet with our
employment specialist to discuss resume and interview help. Also, Juan and I chatted about healthcare
and family planning appointment with a nearby health clinic. We also discussed on site free mental
health and substance abuse counseling. As I was escorting Juan to the
secretary for enrollment, I offered to stop him by the school store
for a quick shopping spree. As Juan entered the store, his eyes grew
larger and he smiled. He asked if he could grab hair shampoo,
a pair of pants, toothpaste, and a toothbrush for him
and his younger siblings, and I said yes. He thanked me and indicated he hadn’t
had that kind of support in a long time. I am proud to say that Juan took
advantage of our educational options. He agreed to attend classes
from July to April, also he attended school three days
a week, from 3pm to 7pm, with an agreement to complete the rest
of his work elsewhere. Surprisingly, Juan attended class
more than agreed, and completed his high school equivalency
diploma faster than we expected. I am proud to say that with the help of
our post-secondary transitional specialist he landed a job with a partnering
construction company. Now, I have to tell you, that Juan’s
educational journey wasn’t all roses. Kids don’t change long established
habits overnight. There were times when Juan needed
reminders of his roles and responsibility on his educational journey. There were times when my
patience wore thin. Above all, Juan knew I cared about him and
would hold him accountable for his choices with no control over his
consequences if warranted. It’s important to note that Juan was just
one of many students. all with their own story to tell. Some students have kids of their own,
and unstable housing environments or are homeless. There are others who’ve experienced many
traumatic experiences. In closing, as educators,
we must innovate and revitalize our antiquated educational systems and
structures to keep kids in school. Having students wander aimlessly in the
streets without college, career, and
life-ready skills serves as a barrier for schools and
communities to thrive peacefully and progress towards their goals. Can you imagine what it would look like
and sound like when every child experienced
educational success? I can, and it will take all of us to create different environments
for living and learning. Thank you for listening.

🦋Escucha a tu corazón, no te rindas, ese dolor que hoy sientes en tu interior, se irá

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