The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Watching the Red Flags…..Dropout Prevention

Today, our school’s Assistant Principal organized some back to school meetings for students who had attendance issues last year. Our school truancy officers attended to make sure everything was in place for these kids to improve their attendance this year and their names were shared with our staff so everyone can be mindful and prevent further problems. When the idea was shared with me, I thought about a forum I attended two years ago where the panel was made up of students who had dropped out of high school and an ASCD article that I have distributed to our staff in the past that focuses on the early warning signs students exhibit. While failure in 6th grade classes, retention in middle school, or poor attendance are not a guarantee that a young person will not make it through 12th grade, research indicates there is a strong correlation between these factors and whether or not our students make it through 12 grade.

One panelist, a young man, said that he dropped out of school because “no one cared if I came to school or not.” When pressed further about whether or not it would have made a difference if a teacher would have said something to him each day, he added that had someone taken notice that he was there and said something as simple as “hi” or “glad to see you today” that he probably would have kept going to school.

My point is that the students on our list today have thrown up a red flag about their future success. As a school, we must take a moment to identify the kids on the list and make an effort to mention that you’re happy to see them at school whenever you think of it. If they miss a few days, we need to let our administrators know, or have a teacher, give them a call and ask them when they’ll be returning. In the coming months, we’ll need to pay close attention to kids with failing grades in their classes for the same reasons.

Not graduating from high school in today’s economy dooms a young person to a life below the poverty line. A headline in today’s newspaper indicated that as many as 1 in 6 are now living in poverty, and that the rate continues to rise. While we must focus on the here and now, we must also keep in mind that research tells us about warning signs we must recognize. The sooner, the better.


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7 thoughts on “Watching the Red Flags…..Dropout Prevention

  1. Kris Grabarek on said:

    Mr. Bernia, All very good points. Making connections with our identified at-risk students is crucial to our work with young people. One thing I would add is that we also need to set up structures in our schools where every child is known well. Our red flags clearly need support, but there are many kids who don’t pop up on our watch lists who need similar supports. This post is about dropout prevention, but other concerns our students face (suicide, bullying, abuse, and so on) are not always as easily seen. Knowing all of our students well starts with a school culture where every child has at least one adult they can feel connected to, and the structures in school (advisory programs, for example) that support those connections. Thanks for the post.

    • Hi Kris,

      We have an advisory program in our building, 30 minutes at the start of each day. I can tell you that as we talk about reductions and how to manage our financial limitations, this program has become a non-negotiable.

      Thanks for the comment,

  2. Angela Pitts on said:

    Mr. Bernia,
    I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I am taking this class as part of my requirements to renew my teaching certificate. In addition, I am currently employed as an Inclusion Paraprofessional at a local middle school. We regularly face attendance issues at our school. Some students just don’t have the motivation to come to school everyday, and they don’t have anyone at home pushing them to come. So, the motivation is left up to the teachers. I agree with you, that paying attention and noticing students with a simple “hello,” “have a great day,” or even “how is your day” is all that some of these students need. The more we take a personal interest in some students, the more they will want to come to school. Thus, the drop out rate will start to shrink.

    • Hi Angela,

      We agree that personal connections are key. Though I think you’d also concur with my thought that good scheduling is just as important. So often, it is electives or a specific class that grabs the interest of a student. Art, band, physical education, choir and technology are all topics that get kids through the door and allow us to teach them our core content.

      It’s my sincere hope you and your peers are having a successful semester in EDM 310.


  3. Alyssa Jackson on said:

    Mr. Bernia,
    Hello my name is Alyssa Jackson and I am a student at the University of South Alabama taking EDM 310. It is very important for teachers to be in contact with their students and actually be concerned with their attendance records. Some students decide to drop out if school at an early age because they have no motivation or anyone telling them to go to school. Both the teacher and students should have equal responsibility within one another to stay on track if any class periods were missed. Thank you for the blog post.

    • Hi Alyssa,

      We agree – the teacher and student share a responsibility to stay on track if time was missed. While we must never enable, we must also realize we have a role when students miss school. I hope you and your peers in EDM 310 are having a terrific semester!


  4. Pingback: 2011 Blogs and Posts | Kee2Education

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