A lesson plan based on “Determined to finish” from the October 2009 issue of L.A. Youth. In “Determined to finish” four students from Cesar Chavez Alternative School in Compton share how the learning environment at a continuation school changed their attitudes about school and kept them from dropping out.

By Mike Fricano, co-managing editor

Grades: 7-12
Subjects: Language Arts, Life Skills
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour

Students will identify reasons that students drop out and how schools and teachers play a role in helping to keep students on track to graduate.

• copies of the L.A. Youth article “Determined to finish” (one per student)
• pens/pencils and paper
• white board or black board

Earlier this year, State Superintendent of Public Education Jack O’Connell released a report stating that in 2007-08, an estimated 68.3 percent of public school students in California graduated, which was up slightly from 67.7 percent the previous year. And the dropout rate for the same school year was 20.1 percent, down from 21.1 percent the year before.

While the slight drop in the number of dropouts was seen as encouraging, O’Connell called the dropout rate unacceptable. With California having more than 2 million high school students enrolled in 2007-08, that still means that more than 105,000 students dropped out. Students without a high school diploma will have a harder time getting jobs that can support them and have fewer opportunities than those with diplomas and college degrees.

Warm-up discussion:
Ask your students whether they know anyone who has dropped out of school. Then ask why they think that some students drop out of school and write their answers in a list on the board. Answers could include: school is too hard, they don’t like school, they have to get a job to help support the family, problems at home or teen pregnancy, among others.

After writing the list, ask the students what teachers and the school can do to help keep students in school. Write these answers in a list next to the first list. They might say: more interesting lessons, teachers getting to know students on a personal level, small class sizes, more challenging classes or counselors who keep track of attendance better. Now discuss how many things from the two lists your students see at their school. Do they think too many students drop out? Do they feel like their school does enough? Do they think it’s important to stay in school and graduate?

Have students read the group discussion featuring four Chavez students, “Determined to finish,” on page 12. As a discussion or as a written assignment, ask students to answer the following questions about the discussion:

What made things difficult at their old schools for the students?
• Riyanna didn’t have strong connections with her teachers.
• Patricia and Riyanna ditched a lot and no one seemed to notice for a while.
• Bianca got pregnant.
• People told Riyanna that she wasn’t going to be successful and she started to believe them.

How are things different for the students at Chavez?
• The classes are smaller and teachers can take time to explain things individually.
• They know their teachers on a personal level.
• Teachers show faith in the students’ ability to succeed.
• The teachers were more flexible with Bianca’s responsibilities having to take care of her baby.
• Students have more chances to catch up when they’re behind on credits needed to graduate.

After reading the group discussion, ask your students what they think schools should do to help prevent students from dropping out. What would have helped the students in the group discussion at their old schools? Should regular high schools try similar strategies as continuation schools?

Have students write an essay explaining why they think students drop out of school and what their school can do to better prevent students from dropping out. Encourage them to give their essays to an administrator or guidance counselor so the school can hear their ideas.

Extension activity:
Most students would probably say that they’ve had at least a few dull teachers or lessons in their lives. One reason that students drop out is a lack of interest in school. Have students break into groups and write their own lesson for the next appropriate topic in class that they think would be more engaging and yet still teach information.