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Head off academic apathy before it hits
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- High expectations for a new school year and dreams for a fresh start can evolve into the same old frustrations and despair when a student's reality is not academic or social stardom.
Louise Davis, family and child development specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said adults should watch for signs of frustration over behavior problems and academic challenges that prompt students to withdraw from school, even before they drop out.
"Dropping out does not begin with the physical act of leaving school. It usually happens mentally first," Davis said. "Increasing our awareness of some of the warning signs can help protect kids from the hardships associated with dropping out of school."
Census Bureau reports from 1994 indicated that high school graduates' earnings averaged $6,415 more per year than dropouts. Researchers report that between 1979 and 1996, the real earnings of 25- to 34-year-old male dropouts fell by 28 percent, and earnings for female dropouts declined 7 percent.
"No socioeconomic group or school district in the state is immune from the problem of students dropping out, but there are several factors that tend to increase the risk," Davis said. "One study indicates students from low-income families are 2.4 times more likely to dropout than children from middle-income families and 10.5 times more likely than those from high-income families."
One possible reason is the tendency to follow in our parents' footsteps. Poor school performance, dating abuse, teen pregnancy and absentee parents are all part of a cycle that many times includes dropping out of school.
"The stay-in-school message often is needed most for parents and families trapped in a cycle that will carry on to the next generation if nothing happens to change their lives," Davis said. "Teachers often play the role of friend and parent to some of these troubled youth who get very little encouragement at home."
Davis said troubled youth usually get a lot of negative comments from people in their lives and do not need more negativism at school. Teachers need to assess the direction the students need to be pushed.
"Dropping out is a cry for help, often indicating the student feels hopeless about his or her future academically and career-wise," Davis said. "Teachers need to make their students feel important and see the value in all jobs."
Even if students are not "college material," teachers and parents can help them set their sites on vocations that will provide them with decent livings.
"College is not for everybody, but if someone can just get through high school and seek some sort of vocational training, they can lead productive lives," Davis said.