About 7,900 Iowa students drop out of high school every year and an effort is underway this weekend to lure some of them back to school. Shirley Burgess, with the United Way of Central Iowa, says 200 volunteers and about 70 school officials will be visiting some 400 former students in the region who’ve dropped out in the past year.
Burgess says, “Teams of three or four will be going around working from a list of identified students and knocking on their door and asking to have a conversation about how we might help them find their path back to school that day.” Saturday will mark the third annual “Reach Out to Dropouts” event.
Over the past two years, Reach Out to Dropouts volunteers visited a total of 862 young people, encouraging 37 to return to school and re-enroll. Another 89 made appointments to re-enroll. “Kids leave school for two reasons,” Burgess says.
“There’s things that push them out and there’s things that pull them out. Maybe there was a bad experience at school that pushed them out. Maybe they’ve had to get a job to help support their family and that’s what’s pulling them out.” Burgess says studies find that dropouts have lower job prospects and income potential along with a higher incidence of incarceration and teen pregnancy than their peers who finish school.
“We know what happens to a person who does not get their high school diploma,” Burgess says. “On average, over their lifetime, they earn about a million dollars less. There’s increased health care because sometimes they don’t even have the health care that they need to stay healthy.”
She says the strategies are starting to work. In the Des Moines metro area, the number of dropouts has fallen fallen from 710 in the 2007-08 school year to 623 in 2009-10. The goal is to cut by half the number of high school students who do not graduate on time by 2020.