Volunteers fanned out in Iowa’s largest city over the weekend in an effort to find high school dropouts and lure them back to class. Shirley Burgess, with the United Way of Central Iowa, helped coordinate dozens of community volunteers and school leaders for the program called “Reach Out to Dropouts.”
Burgess says she sent 230 people out into Des Moines neighborhoods on Saturday with names and addresses of recent dropouts. Burgess says, “Those volunteers made visits and knocked on the doors of 480 students and of those 480, we had 14 that actually returned to school and 31 requested follow-up information, so they very well may put their foot back in the door.”
All city high schools were open that day to begin the re-entry process for students. She says the volunteers also found out that 43 of the former dropouts had gone on to get their GED or general equivalency degree. Most of the dropouts were 16 and 17-years-old and Burgess says a majority of them who were contacted were touched by the gesture.
“What you find is that the families and the students are surprised and pleased to think that individuals in the community would care enough about what’s going on in their lives to take some time to come and talk with them about how they get in school,” Burgess said. The United Way has set a goal for 2020 to reduce by half the number of students who don’t graduate on time. She says many former students are finding work for their experience level is tough to come by, doesn’t pay much and has little future.
“The economy is a huge driver in helping us deal with the dropout rate,” Burgess says. “Sometimes it’s not even enough to have a high school diploma. Two-thirds of the jobs that are out there now require some post-secondary education. The students have recognized now also that it’s simply imperative they at least have a high school diploma.” It’s the second year for the Reach Out to Dropouts program in Des Moines.
Last year, volunteers called on 382 youth who had not returned to school. Of those, 23 re-enrolled that day and another 58 made appointments with school staff to re-enroll.