Don’t Call Them Dropouts

A new report from America’s Promise Alliance finds that students who leave high school without graduating are often overwhelmed by a cluster of negative impacts of poverty. You can read the full 72 page report (pdf) online, but here are some highlights (if that’s even the right word) to note:

  • Approximately 20 percent of young people (that’s about 800,000 per year) don’t graduate from high school
  • Toxic home, school, or neighborhood environments–sources of violence, disrespect and adverse health–lead young people to stop going to school
  • Connectedness to others can lead young people both toward and away from school
  • Even young people who are able to “bounce back” from an interrupted education are often unable to re-engage in the longer-term

So what does all this mean for libraries?

Libraries are uniquely poised to be an ideal space for young people looking to continue or re-engage with their education. We offer materials, programs and services regardless of income or whether a patron’s parent is incarcerated. Public libraries can be an island of consistency for young people who experience homelessness or move often, leaving little connection with the multiple schools in which they enroll.

Library policies, however, don’t always support young people whose educational path varies from the four year high school model. Here are three ways you can help teens at risk of dropping out or trying to re-engage with their education:

1. Reconsider “truancy.” Some public libraries immediately report or kick out teens who try to access books and services during the school day, but where does that leave a young person who may be trying to find out how to earn a GED, how to qualify for food stamps, or even how to enroll in a neighborhood school? In school libraries, students with unique medical situations or other tutoring needs may find themselves with alternative schedules and need a place to go for part of the day. Does your library support these teens?

2. Revisit your post-secondary resources. If your local school community is largely focused on getting students into four-year colleges, you may be missing students with other plans. Does your test prep collection include GED prep or materials for students interested in joining the military, like ASVAB for Dummies? Does your college section include information on local community or technical colleges? Also remember that older teens may be struggling to complete high school after their peers have already graduated; they still need your help!

3. Work with community partners. The America’s Promise Alliance report includes information on the 16 partner groups from each interview city, but there are many, many more–including groups that want to work with libraries. Some libraries now have relationships with hospitals and have social workers on staff. Which groups in your community could help address the unique needs of teens struggling to stay engaged or re-engage with their education?

Looking for help starting the conversation with a teen at your library? Check out’ Answering Teens’ Tough Questions,’ part of YALSA’s Teens at the Library series.’ 

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.
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