Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art
Efforts on behalf of the nation’s huge pool of young people who have not completed high school are gathering steam under the name of dropout re-engagement. Full-scale re-engagement means reaching out and finding young people who need high school credentials, assessing their educational status, referring them to school completion options and other services, and providing support to enroll and continue in a new school.
Last year, 14 re-engagement programs across the country, including those in Washington, provided education referrals to more than 10,000 young people. Programs received confirmation of enrollment of more than 6,000. Of those who enrolled, 73 percent completed a full additional year of school or graduated.
This new wave of re-engagement activity began a few years ago in the form of physical centers — youth-friendly locations where the assessment and referral takes place — and the approach has spread rapidly. In an interesting variant, several Denver-area school districts deploy staff to the coffee shops and bus stops where young people gather and provide support one-to-one at multiple locations.
Re-engagement professionals have taken note of the rapid growth of Washington’s HB1418-Open Doors program. Indeed, Washington’s recent progress stands in some contrast to what is happening in other states. Washington led with state policy; nationwide, most re-engagement initiatives began locally.
Common challenges and opportunities face re-engagement initiatives, whether the begin at the state or local level. These include structural factors such as the local mix of alternative schools, as well as practical items such as whether to offer credit recovery services in tandem with re-engagement referrals.