Stay in School: A Community Resource Handbook
Edited by Loraine Thompson (1991)

SSTA Research Centre Report #91-02: 39 pages, $11.

Introduction Why are so many students dropping out? What effect does dropping out have on individuals, on communities, and on society as a whole? What can we do to keep more students in school?

This Stay in School handbook was developed with support from Canada Employment and Immigration to answer these questions and encourage initiatives to help students stay in school. The handbook includes:

  • background information on the dropout problem,
  • questions to stimulate thought and discussion,
  • strategies to help students stay in school.
The Problem
Who Drops Out and Why
What Works
What Can We Do?
Taking Action

Back to: School Improvement

The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use. Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


Between 31 and 44 out of every 100 Saskatchewan children who enter grade one will drop out of school before completing grade 12.1

Does that statistic alarm you?

If it does, you're not alone. Many school trustees, teachers, parents and community members share your concern. Why are so many students dropping out? What effect does dropping out have on individuals, on communities, on society as a whole? What can we do to keep more students in school? This handbook was developed to answer some of these questions. This handbook:

- provides background information on the dropout problem,

- offers questions to stimulate thought and discussion,

- describes strategies used to keep students in school.

The dropout problem is a complex one. Its effects are felt by individuals, by communities and by society as a whole. Its causes lie in the community, the family, and the school. Therefore, its solutions also lie in the community, the family and the school. Only through a collaborative effort by all of these agencies can the issue of dropouts be addressed. This handbook discusses the role of these three agencies, and outlines ways in which they can work together toward the urgent and important goal of keeping kids in school.

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The Cost of Dropping Out

Dropping out of school has implications for individuals, and for society as a whole.

Implications for Individuals

Dropping out limits individuals' job and personal opportunities, and thus affects their income and quality of life. As table 1 shows, people with a university degree earn about twice as much as people with less than grade nine education.

In the past education wasn't always necessary for career success. Today it is, because many simple jobs are now done by machines and those which remain require specialized skills and knowledge. This trend is expected to continue in the future, as more businesses become automated and technology becomes more complex.

The effects of dropping out aren't only economic, however. The cumulative effects of the educational and personal factors which lead to dropping out influence individuals' self-esteem and the way they view the world.

Implications for Society

The fact that one-third of our young people don't finish grade 12 has implications for society too, because:

- Canada's competitiveness in the global economy is increasingly dependent on an educated, adaptable workforce.

- Generally, people with lower levels of education require more social services than do people with higher levels.

- Society's financial resources are used to operate programs for people who are unemployed and people who need social services.

Who is a Dropout?

In this handbook, the term dropout refers to any student who leaves school without a high school diploma or without transferring to another school. In a group discussion, decide if a student should be called a dropout if he or she leaves school:

- because of pregnancy.

- to get married.

- to begin an apprenticeship program.

- to take over the family farm.

- because s/he has been expelled.

- to play professional hockey.

- to enter university two years ahead of other students the same age.

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The Problem

A number of studies have been done to calculate the dropout rate in Saskatchewan, but the exact figure is difficult to determine because:

- Different schools, school divisions, and researchers use different definitions of a dropout.

- Different researchers use different statistical and research methods.

- It sometimes is hard to tell if a student has dropped out. Students may be absent for long periods of time, or may move back and forth between the city and country or between schools within school divisions.

- No study is foolproof.

The dropout rate varies from one community to another. In some communities it is very high; in other communities, very low. Whether the overall provincial dropout rate is 31%4 or 44%5 is not important. What is important is that our communities are failing to develop their potential by allowing students to leave school before completing grade 12. These statistics are people; people whose opportunities are limited and quality of life is reduced because of their lack of education.

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Who Drops Out and Why

Who Drops Out

There is no single description that fits all dropouts. Although some dropouts are low achievers, others are academically gifted. However, many dropouts have some family and personal characteristics in common.

Family Background

- low socioeconomic status - Many dropouts' parents are poor and/or work in low-skilled jobs. This does not mean that children from lower socioeconomic families are less intelligent or less able to learn. It does mean that the influence of their socioeconomic background is greater than their natural abilities.

"Rates of achievement or patterns of school behaviour associated with success, when broken down by gender, race, ethnic background socioeconomic status, reveal some very disturbing inequalities."9

- single-parent families - It is not clear whether the tendency for children from single-parent families to drop out is due to the nature of the single-parent family or to the fact that many of these families are poor.

- parents who are themselves dropouts - Children's views of the world are largely shaped by what they see in their immediate environment. When their parents have limited education, many children assume that this is how it will be for them, too.

- little family support for education - Succeeding in school requires a particular set of skills and attitudes. Many dropouts do not learn these skills and attitudes at home and many receive little encouragement to do well at school.

Personal Characteristics

- low achievement - Although many dropouts aren't doing well in school, this isn't always the case. Some students with high marks also drop out.

- ethnic background - In Saskatchewan the dropout rate for children of Aboriginal ancestry is very high. Only about 10% finish school.10 Immigrant children and children whose first language is not English are also at risk for dropping out.

- part-time work - Students who work more than 15 hours a week drop out more often than those who work fewer hours.

- psychological characteristics - Individuals whose life experiences have contributed to the development of low self-esteem, the belief that they have little control over their lives, and a tendency to set short-term rather than long-term goals, tend to drop out.

- alienation from the school and the educational system - Many dropout's school experiences have made them feel that they don't belong in the school or the school system. They don't relate to the school or to teachers and feel that the school and its teachers don't relate to them. In their view they are outsiders, lacking acceptance.

- escapist behaviours - These may include use of alcohol and drugs, disruptive behaviour at school or trouble with the law.

Reasons for Dropping Out

Individual students rarely drop out of school for a single reason. There are usually several inter-related factors operating at once. Similarly, in any given school, students may be dropping out for a variety of reasons. The factors which cause one student to drop out may be quite different from those which cause another to drop out.

Reasons for dropping out

- school related - 43-45%

- personal - 19-23%

- economic - 27-29% 11

Research studies suggest that the reasons why young people drop out of school fall into three categories: school-related, economic and personal.

School-Related Reasons

More students drop out for school-related reasons than for other reasons. The reasons mentioned most often are general dislike, lack of interest and boredom. Difficulty with particular subjects is less important. Comments by students suggest that the problem faced by many low-achieving students is not their low achievement itself, but rather the way that the school relates to their performance. Often the school is indifferent or hostile rather than supportive or encouraging. The majority of dropouts say that the school is not geared to help people like them or that teachers and staff don't care about them.

"Students don't drop out of school because they do not want to learn. They drop out because they are failing to learn. Everyone wants to learn if the outcome serves a purpose and the process is more positive than negative."12

Only about one-third of students who drop out of school discuss their decision beforehand with their teachers or principal. About 41% of the students who do discuss their decision to leave, say that little or no effort was made to persuade them to stay in school.

The process that causes students to drop out for school-related reasons begins when they start school. Many of them are from lower socioeconomic families and some have fewer of the skills that contribute to school success than do students from middle-class homes.

These children soon discover that they cannot meet the expectations of the school. If their efforts are met with what the perceive to be indifference or anger from their teachers, they become turned off or alienated. They may misbehave out of frustration or as a way of getting attention. They have experienced more failures at school than successes. Eventually they come to believe they are unlikable, that they cannot learn, that there is no point in trying to learn and that they are not wanted at school.

Do you know these students?

Warren is 16 years old and is taking grade eight for the third time. None of the other kids will have anything to do with him and he is loud and disorderly in class. He comes from a single-parent family on social assistance. He is absent at least half the time.

Susan is 15 years old and in grade 10. She gets good marks, but is very quiet in class. Her parents are both professional people. In October it becomes obvious that Susan is pregnant. At the end of November she simply stops coming to school.

Mark is 14 year old and in grade nine. He is inquisitive, intelligent and has a love of learning. His parents are middle class and are very supportive of their son. He complains constantly about stupid rules, stupid assignments and stupid teachers. He is often in trouble for not following instructions when doing his assignments or for ignoring his assignments altogether and doing projects that interest him.

Mary is 15 years old and in grade 10. She is of Aboriginal ancestry. Nobody at school knows much about her family. She is absent a lot. Her written work is good for a student who misses so much school. She rarely speaks in class and usually does not answer questions if asked directly. When she stops coming to school, hardly anyone notices her absence.

What Would You Do?

The setting is a community coffee shop. The speaker is a local resident. He says:

"My boy is gonna finish grade 10 this year. Sure am glad! I need him to help with the business. The teachers over at the school tried to convince him to take grade 11. I put an end to that idea. Grade 10 is all my kids need."

What would you say to this father if you were one of the people in the coffee shop?

What would you say to him if you were his teacher?

What is the community's responsibility in this situation?

Economic Reasons

About 27% to 29% of students who drop out of school do so in order to get a job. For a few students (3 to 10%) it's a matter of financial necessity, but for most it's a matter of choice. Through their actions, these students are saying that the pull of the workplace and of an immediate paycheck is greater than the holding power of the school.

"Work, for the dropout, means money and hence independence, direct feedback, and tangible and intangible rewards for a job adequately done. The workplace invites, where the school room disinvites."13

Personal Reasons

Personal reasons for dropping out include everything from problems at home, pregnancy, and ill health to emotional difficulties. Between 12 and 14 percent of female students who drop out are pregnant. While pregnancy is not directly related to the operation of the school, it is possible that if the school atmosphere were non-judgemental and if adequate child-care were provided, more pregnant students would stay in school.14

What Do You Think?

Are pregnant students who stay in school a bad influence on the other students?

Does the school have a responsibility to provide day care for teenage parents?

What would you say to a pregnant student who is thinking of quitting school?

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Some students who leave school before the end of grade twelve are pushouts as much as they are dropouts. Teachers and principals sometimes pressure students who aren't doing well or who are troublesome, to leave school. At its most extreme level, this pressure may involve expelling students or counselling them to leave school. Less direct types of pressure include:

What Do You Think?

Are there some children who don't belong at school?

Are there some children who just don't want to learn?

- failing to follow up when the student is absent,

- ignoring the student when he or she does come to school,

- making it clear that the student is not expected to work or achieve at school; only to be quiet and behave.

All of these types of pressure give students the message that they are not wanted at school. Under these circumstances dropping out becomes easier than staying.

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Aboriginal Students

The fact that a low percentage of Aboriginal students complete grade 12 suggests that the school system is not serving this group of students well. It is true that Aboriginal students, like most other students, rarely drop out for a single reason. There are usually several community, family and school influences operating at once. It is also true, however, that schools need to consider the particular circumstances of all students' lives and to design programs accordingly. Because schools often fail to consider the particular circumstances of Aboriginal students' lives, many Aboriginal students encounter both systemic and personal racism. Racism is made up of two components, prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is as its name implies, a prejudgement. It is attitudes and beliefs that we hold about people and situations without really considering the facts. Discrimination occurs when prejudice is translated into action. It is the unfavourable or unequal treatment of people based on their membership is a certain group.

Systemic Racism

Systemic racism is racism that is built into the school system. Systemic racism is usually not deliberate. It occurs when schools operate within a mainstream cultural context and fail to realize that Aboriginal students may have a different set of cultural experiences and values.

How would you feel if:

- The school curriculum emphasized the "brave" explorers and missionaries who brought "civilization" to people of your culture?

- At home you are taught that speaking up is showing off and, therefore, unacceptable, but at school you are overlooked or criticized if you don't speak up?

- At home you are taught to always think carefully before you talk and to allow time for contemplation, but at school you are overlooked or criticized if you don't answer instantly?

Personal Racism

Personal racism occurs when the words or actions of teachers or other students are patronizing, insulting or demeaning. Personal racism is often deliberate. How would you feel if:

- The other kids call you names like "squaw" or "Hiawatha"?

- The teachers ignore these name-calling incidents?

- You overhear one teacher say to another, "Of course, none of these Indian kids are going to make it."?

The situations described above describe some of the reasons why many Aboriginal students feel alienated and unwanted at school. Is it any wonder that many drop out?

The incidents described above are some obvious examples of systemic and personal racism against Aboringinal students. Others may be more subtle. For example, some teachers (and fellow students) may not know how to relate to Aboriginal students and thus may either ignore them or treat them with exaggerated and paternalistic courtesy. Racism can be conveyed non-verbally as well as verbally. Teachers who pull away from aboriginal students but not from other students or conversely make a display of patting them on the back when this is not the classroom norm are showing racist behaviour.

Look at Your Community

- Can you look at students in grades two or three and predict which ones will drop out of school?

- Think about four or five recent dropouts that you know:

- What are their personal and family characteristics?

- Why did they drop out?

- Was anyone surprised when they dropped out?

- Did anyone in the school or community try to persuade them to stay in school?

- What are they doing now?

- Can you look at students in grade eight and predict which ones will drop out of school?

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What Works

There are two approaches to preventing dropouts. The first is to make all education more student-centred so that the basic reasons why students drop out are eliminated. The second is to identify students in middle years and high school who are at risk of dropping out and intervene directly in order to make their school experience more satisfying and thus keep them in school. These two approaches are not incompatible. Both can operate at the same time in the same school.

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Student-centred Education

The situations which cause students to drop out do not arise overnight; they have their roots in children's earliest educational experiences. Children who drop out because they feel that they cannot learn and that they aren't wanted at school, learn their attitudes in the elementary grades. Thus, the ultimate answer to the dropout problem is to make all education more student-centred. When over a third of students leave school before finishing grade 12, it makes little sense to establish a two-tiered educational system with separate programs for students who are at risk for dropping out and those who are not. A wiser approach is to improve the educational system so that it better meets the needs of all children. Recent changes in curriculum and in instructional approaches are an attempt to do this.

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Direct Intervention

In the short-term, however, there is a place for direct intervention through dropout prevention programs. Most schools have students who are at risk of dropping out tomorrow, or next week, or next month. A restructuring of the school system so that it is more student-centred will come too late to benefit these students, while a dropout prevention program might reach them.

Programs targeted specifically at dropout prevention are most successful when they address both students' personal and academic lives. Personal elements addressed might include pregnancy, substance abuse, racism or the need for employment. Academic elements addressed might include poor grades or disruptive behaviour.

Some of the characteristics of programs which are effective at keeping students in school are described in the sections which follow. These characteristics apply both to mainstream educational programs and to programs designed specifically for dropouts.

"Successful programs often mix academic and vocational studies, provide more individualized instruction, and have as instructors teachers who are sensitive and responsive to students' needs. But according to various studies, dropout programs first must address students' academic needs through an appropriate curriculum, teaching staff, instructional process, and schedule and location." 15

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Characteristics of Successful Programs

1. High but Achievable Expectations

In schools which are successful at preventing dropouts, there is a belief among principal and teachers that all students can learn and all teachers can teach. School staff convey this attitude through their words and their actions. For example, they ask as many questions, demand as many completed assignments and expect the same standards of work from students who fit the profile of a dropout as they do of all other students.

2. A Caring and Committed Staff

Students who are at risk of dropping out typically feel alienated from the school. They feel that they don't belong, that they are on the outside looking in. They often feel that no one is interested in them or cares about them. A caring and committed staff can prevent such a sense of alienation from developing in the first place and can help turn around students' feelings of rejection.

3. Non-Threatening and Secure Classroom and School Climate

People avoid situations in which they feel physically and emotionally threatened. Schools which are successful at preventing dropouts have a positive emotional atmosphere. Students don't suffer a loss of self-esteem just by being there. These schools are usually orderly with clear rules of behaviour which are enforced fairly.

4. Employment and Training Programs

Programs which emphasize training, employment preparation and job placement often help students see the relationship between education and the world of work and help them make the transition between school and the labour force.

5. Flexible Schedules

Schools have found that flexible scheduling makes it easier for students with jobs or family responsibilities to attend. Classes are offered at times outside the usual 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule.

6. Alternate Programs

Alternate programs are a way of meeting the needs of specific groups of students such as those who have learning or behaviour problems or those who are working and those who are pregnant. Many schools offer some type of alternate program within the regular school. It may be an individualized program, tutor, or a special classroom where students spend all or part of their day. Some school divisions set up alternate schools to meet the needs of specific groups of students. Some Saskatchewan examples of alternate schools are the Balfour Tutorial Program for pregnant girls in Regina and the Joe Duquette High School for Aboriginal students in Saskatoon. Alternate programs may also operate outside the regular school system, for example the Cornwall Alternative School in Regina.

7. Recognition and Acceptance of Students' Culture

The curriculum and the environment in most schools represents a mainstream point of view. There is limited recognition of the worth and contribution of other cultures. This can be alienating and discouraging to students of "minority" cultures. It can make them feel that the school does not value them and their culture. This is a particular problem in Saskatchewan where the Aboriginal dropout rate is extremely high.

8. Reading and Writing Programs

Success in school depends on a student's ability to read and write. If these basic skills are not learned in the early grades, students have increasing difficulty as they get older. When students' ability to read and write improves, they do better work in all subject areas and become more self-confident.

9. Individualized Instruction

Individualized programs permit students to focus on specific objectives, and to learn at their own pace and ability level. They allow students to feel that they are in control of their own learning. Thus, they allow students to experience success and increase the chances that students will stay in school.

10. School and Employer Cooperation

The quality of life in a community is directly related to the quality of its education. Employers have a stake in education because the work force comes from the ranks of those who graduate - and those who don't. Many of the issues that youth face are too complicated for the school to handle alone - it takes a total community effort with involvement of school, business, community agencies, civic organizations, private groups, and parents.


When families and communities value education, children stay in school longer.

11. Family Involvement

When families are involved in their children's education they:

- improve their ability to deal with their own children,

- help the school meet the needs of all children,

- give their children a message that school is important.

There are at least five ways that families can be involved in their children's education:

- by creating home environments that support learning,

- through home/school communication,

- through volunteer work,

- by helping their children learn at home,

- by acting as leaders for other parents.

Parental involvement will be increased in each of these areas if schools let families know that their involvement is important and if they create situations which encourage family participation in school activities.16

12. Staff Development Programs

Many principals, teachers and counsellors don't know how to structure an educational program so that all students experience success or how to work with middle years or high school students who are at risk of dropping out. Staff development programs can provide school personnel with the skills and attitudes they need to help all students.

13. Use of Instructional Technologies

Computer-assisted instruction has many advantages for students at risk of dropping out. A well-designed educational computer program:

- allows students to progress at their own rate,

- provides frequent feedback,

- ensures that students experience success most of the time.

14. Mentoring and Tutoring

Mentoring and tutoring help prevent dropouts because students are actively involved with another person who supports and encourages them. Since some at-risk students are having trouble with their school work, a tutor can provide extra help in specific subjects or teach study skills. Peer tutoring in which students tutor each other is a particularly effective intervention for at-risk students.

15. Grouping of Students

Schools have used various types of grouping to increase students' sense of family and of belonging. These include:

- creating small classes,

- keeping classes of high school students together for all their subjects as they move up the grades,

- moving elementary teachers up a grade with their class for most of elementary school instead of assigning different teachers to a class each year,

- creating "home rooms" that stay the same throughout all a child's years in school.17

Students will be less likely to drop out if:

- they experience success at school,

- they feel that people at school care about them.

Think About It

The majority of students who drop out don't discuss their decision with anyone at school. How can teachers, principals and others at school take the initiative and try to persuade these students to stay in school?

Most dropouts feel that they must face their problems alone without support from teachers, school or family. How can we let kids know that we care, that we're there for them?

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What Can We Do?

Preventing dropouts is too big a task for any single individual or group. To be successful, a dropout prevention program requires the efforts and energy of the board of education, of school staff, of students' families and of the community as a whole. Cooperation and coordination are required both for programs aimed at a making the entire educational system more child-centred and for programs aimed specifically at students who are at risk of dropping out.

Because many individuals and many agencies are involved in successful dropout prevention programs, leadership comes from many sources. For example, parents might exercise leadership in some areas, employers in others and the board of education in still others. For a dropout prevention program to be successful two things are necessary. The board of education and school staff must be willing to accept leadership from the community and the community must know that it has an important role in such programs.

Community agencies and businesses and individuals often aren't aware of how important their leadership is in a dropout prevention program. Many successful dropout prevention programs begin when the board of education invites the community to exercise leadership. These boards make it clear that they are willing to be guided by the community in certain areas. Once the principles of shared leadership and shared responsibility have been established, it will be easy to identify specific activities which can be undertaken by schools, communities and families in order to prevent dropouts. Some possible activities are listed in the sections which follow.

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What Schools Can Do

- Develop a positive, caring climate in the school.

- Establish an atmosphere which makes it clear that all students can learn and all teachers can teach.

- Develop tutoring programs for students. Encourage other students, parents and community members to serve as tutors.

- Involve family and community members in the life of the school. A few ways of doing this include:

- Develop school-community advisory councils to advise on school policies and activities,

- Invite parents and others to serve as tutors, mentors, resource people, guest speakers,

- Design special school programs for parents, (e.g., cultural activities, Aboriginal languages, using health and social services, helping your child learn).

- Assign each student to a teacher who advises and counsels him or her about academic matters and other school related activities. Structure the school program so that each student/advisor pair meet for at least a half an hour every week.

Boards of Education Can...

- Make your community aware of the fact that dropping out of school is bad for the individual and bad for society.

- Create a policy that commits the schools to helping all students learn. All students whatever their background and whatever their basic intelligence, can learn. When a student fails to learn, it is as much the school's problem as the student's.

- Involve family members in their children's education.

- Be the leader in building a partnership between the schools, the community, local businesses and social service agencies.

- Provide the resources to set up alternate programs if they are needed.

- Develop programs which incorporate students' cultures into the schools.

- Make inservice on the causes and prevention of dropouts a priority.

- Involve teachers, parents, and students at every stage of planning and implementation of a dropout program to create a sense of ownership that will lead to success.

- Incorporate students' culture into the life of the school. A few ways of doing this are:

- Include cultural content in the curriculum (e.g., teach the history of North America from an Aboriginal point of view; use art from various cultures to illustrate the concepts of line, colour, etc. in art class; discuss the literature of various cultures in English class,

- Provide direct instruction in traditional cultures (e.g., classes in traditional Aboriginal philosophy or language),

- Use community members as instructors and role models (e.g., Elders as guest speakers)

- Celebrate holidays and feasts of many cultures.

- Develop incentives for good attendance. Some possibilities include rewarding individuals with perfect or near perfect attendance by:

- Recognizing them in the local newspaper, radio or TV station,

- Giving them a certificate which can be exchanged for a variety of prizes,

- Awarding buttons, pins, plaques, coupons from movie theatres and fast food restaurants, etc.

Teachers Can...

- Have high but achievable expectations for all students - remember all students can learn.

- Show students that you like and respect them. Treat them with dignity.

- Show students that you care about them.

- Operate a structured, well-organized classroom with clearly defined limits. Involve students in developing a code of conduct and in establishing rules.

- Show students that their culture is valued and something to be proud of.

- Divide learning activities into small units and focus on one or two skills at a time, so that students experience success every day.

- Use direct instruction, which emphasizes clear instructions, lots of opportunity for practice and regular feedback.

- Emphasize reading skills - reading is the key to success in school.

- Involve students in the life of the community. A few ways of doing this include:

- Visit a senior citizens' home on a regular basis,

- Collect food, money, toys, etc. for a local charity,

- Design homework assignments which require students to use the community (e.g. interviews with community members).

- Develop a well defined discipline system, involving students in its creation.

- Invite family and community members into your classroom as guests, resource people or helpers.

- Work with social agencies such as Saskatchewan Social Services or the police service when a student is involved with these agencies.

- Call parents when a student has done something good as well as when there is a problem.

- Develop programs to assist students to deal with personal problems such as drug or alcohol abuse, pregnancy, family conflict. These can take a variety of forms including:

- Peer counselling programs,

- School-based Alcoholics Anonymous or Ala-teen groups,

- Referrals to appropriate community agencies,

- One-on-one counselling from a guidance counsellor or teacher.

- Make it a school policy to counsel any student who mentions dropping out and to encourage that student to stay in school.

- As a school staff, frequently review student progress so that no students fall through the cracks.

- Vigorously enforce student attendance requirements. A few ways of doing this include:

- Phone a student's parents whenever the student is absent,

- Organize a peer calling system in which students encourage classmates who have been absent to attend,

- Visit the homes of students who are often absent,

- Welcome with enthusiasm a student who returns to school after being absent for a period of time.

- Purchase some good computer programs (remember, not all programs are well designed) for teaching or remediation of basic skills.

- Provide families with information about ways in which they can help their children succeed in school. Information can be provided through:

- Personal meetings,

- Workshops specially for this purpose,

- Family newsletters,

- Displays or mini-workshops at parents' day at the school,

- Displays at fairs, rodeos and other community events.

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What Families Can Do

- Sincerely believe that your children will do well at school and make sure your children know you believe in them.

- Read to your children and talk to them about the things they see on television.

- Encourage your children to tell you about the things they learn in school.

- Insist that your children go to school everyday unless they are sick.

- Emphasize to your children that career and personal success in today's world depends on a good education.

- Meet regularly with your children's teachers to discuss your children's progress. Be sure that your children's teachers tell you about the children's successes as well as the areas in which they need to improve.

- Get involved in school activities. Some ways of doing this include:

- volunteer to go along on a school field trip

- volunteer to coach a sport, speak to a class or help with the school library

- volunteer to tutor students who are having learning difficulties

- serve on the board of education or on school committees.

- Insist that your children do their homework.

- Let the Board of Education, the director of education and the principal know what you think about educational issues.

- Be sure that your high school students don't spend so many hours at their part-time jobs that their school work suffers.

- Encourage pregnant girls to stay in school. No one needs an education more than a teen mom.

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What Communities Can Do

- Recognize that dropping out is a community problem, requiring a community solution.

- Establish a school-community advisory council to advise and support school activities and to assess school programs.

- Use a case study approach in which the school and community agencies get together to discuss the needs of specific students or groups of students at risk of dropping out.

- Set up a community mentoring program, in which students who wish it or students at risk of dropping out are paired with a community member who will encourage and support them.

Employers can...

- participate in adopt-a-school or adopt-a-student programs.

- provide incentives to encourage your student employees to stay in school.

- welcome students into your place of business for work experience or job-shadowing programs.

- provide incentives to encourage employees to become involved in school programs.

- Identify problems such as substance abuse and teen pregnancy that contribute to dropping out and set up programs involving appropriate community agencies.

- Develop programs that show students the relationship between education and the world of work.

- Make the school a centre of community life. Hold meetings, and other community events there.


Efforts to meet children's needs and to keep them in school are most effective when they are coordinated and cooperative. Education, social and health services, business people, service clubs and community organizations all have a role to play.

- Use every means possible to encourage young people to stay in school and to publicize the costs of dropping out. Possible techniques include everything from media campaigns to slogans, billboards and casual conversation.

- Provide opportunities for school classes and groups of students to be involved in the life of the community. Opportunities might range from visits to senior citizens homes to recycling programs to educational field trips.

Look at Your Community

- What social service agencies exist in your community?

- What contribution could each of these make to a dropout prevention program?

- What school/business/community linkages exist now?

- How can these linkages be made stronger?

- How can community members, parents and social service agencies be encouraged to exercise leadership in a dropout prevention program?

- How many businesses and organizations in your community could potentially participate in work experience, job shadowing or employment training programs?

- How can you encourage businesses and organizations to participate in these types of school/community programs?

- Which steps can we take immediately? Which ones can we take in the future?

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Taking Action

Earlier sections of this handbook described the characteristics of students who drop out and their reasons for dropping out, the characteristics of programs which are effective at keeping students in school, and specific activities which can be undertaken by schools, communities and families. A strategy which boards of education can use to put all of these components together and provide the leadership necessary to create schools that invite students to stay is described below.

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The Dropout Task Force

One of the best ways of getting started with a dropout prevention plan is to appoint a dropout task force or committee. The task force should be made up of board members, administrators, business people, teachers, community members and students. A community-based task force is a good idea for several reasons:

- There are more people to do the work.

- Several heads are better than one. A group of people with differing backgrounds will have a wealth of experience and ideas to draw upon.

- Involving the community right from the start in a project such as this sends a strong message about the importance of community participation.

- The members of the task force will have links to various segments of the community - links which they will be able to use for the benefit of the project.

The dropout task force will have a number of jobs including gathering information, planning, coordinating, sharing information and evaluating.

Gathering Information

One of the task force's first jobs will be to gather information about the dropout problem in your school division. Questions to answer include:

- How many students are dropping out in our division, in specific schools?

- In what grades are students dropping out?

- Why are students dropping out? (Phoning recent dropouts is the best way to get this information.)

- What are young people doing after they drop out - work, welfare, unemployment?


The task force needs to develop an overall plan for reducing dropouts in your school division. The plan should have three important aspects:

- Objectives - What goals do we want to achieve? Both long and short term objectives are important. It may be possible to achieve some objectives in weeks, others may take years.

- Action - What activities will help us realize these objectives? What individuals and groups need to be involved in order to make these activities happen?

- Evaluation - How will we know when we have achieved our objectives?


The enthusiasm, hard work and creativity of the board of education, and of teachers, administrators and community members is what will make a dropout prevention program successful. All of these groups must be free to develop their own plans and activities which will help achieve the basic objectives identified by the dropout task force. The role of the task force is to work with these other groups and help them develop their own plans, not to impose a detailed plan upon them. The more ownership that specific groups have over the dropout prevention program the greater its chances of success. Ideas for activities which can be undertaken by various groups appear in the previous section. Some schools may want to develop their own dropout prevention committee which will set objectives for their school, develop plans for action and decide upon evaluation strategies.

Sharing Information

Students, teachers and the general public need to know about the dropout prevention task force, its plans and its activities. How else will they become interested and involved? The task force can use a number of different strategies to raise awareness ranging from word-of-mouth to organized media campaigns.


Regular evaluation is the best way of determining whether progress is being made toward objectives. Evaluation should be built into both district-wide and school-level plans. It should never be an "add-on". Depending upon the results of an evaluation the task force can:

- Congratulate itself on a job well done and let the world know that at least one objective has been achieved.

- Extend time-lines to achieve certain objectives.

- Design new activities to achieve specific objectives.

- Develop new objectives.

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1. Saskatchewan dropout rate from:

Cipywnyk, S.V., Pawlovich, W., and Randhawa, B.S. (1983). Early school leavers in Saskatchewan: A preliminary study. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: University of Saskatchewan.


Randhawa, B.S. (1988). Incidence of dropping out and transfers from grades 8 to 12 in Saskatchewan Schools in 1986-87. Unpublished paper.

2. Statistics from Economic service notes (January, 1989). Ottawa: Canadian Teacher's Federation.

3. Statistics from Saskatchewan Justice, Corrections Division.

4. Cipywnyk, S.V., Pawlovich, W., and Randhawa, B.S. (1983). Early school leavers in Saskatchewan: A preliminary study. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: University of Saskatchewan.

5. Randhawa, B.S. (1988). Incidence of dropping out and transfers from grades 8 to 12 in Saskatchewan Schools in 1986-87. Unpublished paper.

6. Graphs created from data in: Randhawa, B.S. (1988). Incidence of dropping out and transfers from grades 8 to 12 in Saskatchewan schools in 1986-87. Unpublished paper.

7. Graphs created from data in: Saskatchewan Education (1985). Inner-city dropout study. Regina: The Department.

8. Chart adapted from one developed by Prairie View School Division #17. Used with permission.

9. Quote from: Education Today, September/October, 1990.

10. Aboriginal dropout rate from: Saskatchewan Education (1985). Inner-city dropout study. Regina: The Department.

11. Reasons why students leave school from: Decima Research. (1987). A report to the Ontario study of the relevance of education and the issue of dropouts. Toronto, ON: Ministry of Education.


Goldfarb Consultants. (1987). Student retention and transition in the secondary schools. A research report for the Ontario study of the relevance of education and the issue of dropouts. Cited in Macdonald, Marilyn H. (1989). Early school leavers: Current issues and concerns. Regina: Saskatchewan Instructional Development and Research Unit, Faculty of Education, University of Regina.

12. Quote from: Hamby, John V. (1989). How to get an "A" on your dropout prevention report card. Educational Leadership 46 (5), 21-28.

13. Quote from: Goldfarb Consultants. (1987). Student retention and transition in the secondary schools. A research report for the Ontario study of the relevance of education and the issue of dropouts. (p. 96)

14. Information on family and personal characteristics of dropouts and the reasons why students drop out from: Radwanski, George. (1987). Ontario study of the relevance of education and the issue of dropouts. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education.


Macdonald, Marilyn H. (1987). Early school leavers: Current issues and concerns. Regina: Saskatchewan Instructional Development and Research Unit, Faculty of Education, University of Regina.

15. Quote from: An equal chance: Educating at-risk children to succeed. (1989). Alexandria, VA: National School Boards Association.

16. Types of parental involvement from Educational Leadership, October 1989.

17. Characteristics of successful programs from: Effective strategies for dropout prevention: A dozen strategies for dropout prevention. (1990). National Dropout Prevention Center, Clemson University, Clemson, SC.


Macdonald, Marilyn H. (1989). Early school leavers: Current issues and concerns. Regina: Saskatchewan Instructional Development and Research Unit, Faculty of Education, University of Regina.


Teachers College Record, 87 (3), Spring 1986 (Entire issue).


Radwanski, George. (1987). Ontario Study on the relevance of education and the issue of dropouts. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education.

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For Further Reading

An equal chance: Educating at-risk children to succeed. 1989. Alexandria, VA: National School Boards Association.

Macdonald, Marilyn H. Early school leavers: Current issues and concerns. Regina: Saskatchewan Instructional Development and Research Unit, Faculty of Education University of Regina.

Radwanski, George. (1987). Ontario Study on the relevance of education and the issue of dropouts. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education.

Teachers College Record, 87 (3), Spring 1986 (Entire issue).

For Consultative Services

Contact the Director of Education for your school division and/or:

Saskatchewan Education

2220 College Avenue

Regina S4P 3V7

Saskatchewan School Trustees Association

#400-2222-13th Avenue

Regina S4P 3M7

Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation

2317 Arlington Avenue

Saskatoon S7J 2H8

Sample Programs

The programs listed below are just some examples of programs operating in Saskatchewan which help students stay in school. Many schools, school divisions and communities have similar programs. For information about programs in your area, contact your local school principal or director of education.

Cornwall Alternative School

2216 Smith Street

Regina S4P 2P5

An alternative school that offers individualized programming for students who have not been successful in the regular school system.

Cochrane High School City Park Collegiate Sion High School

1069 - 14th Avenue E 820 - 9th Avenue N 2010 - 7th Street E.

Regina S4N 0T8 Saskatoon S7K 2Z2 Saskatoon S7H 5K6

These high schools offer their students a combination of academic and vocational studies. Some courses and programs focus on job-related skills.

Balfour Tutorial Program Bishop Murry High School

Balfour Collegiate Tutorial Program

1245 College Avenue 615 Wiggins Avenue S

Regina S4P 1B1 Saskatoon S7H 2J2

Programs specially designed for pregnant female high school students are offered at these schools.

Joe Duquette High School Scott Collegiate

919 Broadway Avenue 3350 - 7th Avenue

Saskatoon S7N 1B8 Regina S4T 0P6

Schools which offer individualized programs centred around Aboriginal culture and traditions.

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