So, Exactly Who is “At-Risk”?

We often talk in education about “at-risk” youth, and the National Dropout Prevention Center (NDPC) recently concluded its annual At-Risk Youth Forum.  So, exactly who is “at-risk”?

For practical purposes, all students, to a degree, are at-risk to drop out of school and not graduate on time with their class right up to the point where they receive their diploma.

The truth is, the complexities of growing up, the many potential distractions of childhood and adolescence, and the web of influences on young people make graduation anything but a certainty.

There are, however, some factors that increase a student’s risk of dropping out, and as school leaders we should assess those factors.  Prevention is much more effective than repair.  Despite this truth, we often are dealing with at-risk behaviors after they have reduced the likelihood of graduation.

Let’s look at the risk factors for dropping out, according to research from the NDPC:



NDPC has identified 21 risk factors in four different domains (Individual, Family, Community and School).   As you look at the factors, they will not come as a surprise to you if you’ve been working in a school setting.  Most students can overcome a few of these factors, but it becomes increasingly difficult when many of these factors describe you.

We have to know our students well to know what factors leave them at-risk. 

Once we know their needs, then we can design what we do in such a manner that it can help reduce their risk factors and help them be more likely to graduate.  As we know, there are many factors that reside outside of the school domain, but, notice that one-third of the 21 risk factors are directly associated with school.  While we must also focus on factors outside of the school (personal, community and family domains), we should make it a point of pride to design our school experience as one that reduces the risk of dropping out rather than raises it.  That is not always the case.

Take a look at the school domain.  Think about what you do within your school.  What can you do differently to reduce the risk of dropouts?

This question is one that is best considered as a part of a comprehensive diploma plan;  for the moment, consider it by itself anyway.  When you begin to think about what you do at your school and become more intentional in your work, you’ll begin to shape your school experience into one that makes you a risk reducer, and that’s a good place to be.



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