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‘Dropout Nation’ Turnaround: How Shelbyville Fixed its Dropout Problem

Courtesy of Learning Matters

In 2006, TIME Magazine featured Shelbyville, Ind.,under the headline “Dropout Nation.” With a graduation rate of 75 percent, Shelbyville was the poster child for the dropout crisis in America. Since then, the community of 18,000 has dramatically shifted its strategy and attitude when it comes to helping students get their diploma. Six years later, Shelbyville’s graduation rate jumped to 90 percent, but how did they turn things around?

“More attention is being paid to identifying the students at risk of dropping out,” reports John Tulenko in an upcoming NewsHour piece. The school has a “watch list” to monitor the progress of at-risk students, usually identified by being behind in credits.

The high school also allows at-risk students to enroll in online credit recovery courses. Learning Matters producers John Tulenko and Mike Joseloff interviewed Melissa Lakes, who runs the Student Achievement Center where they use technology to help potential dropouts catch up by providing one-on-one instruction and helping students learn at their own pace.

While many factors contribute to students dropping out, such as teen pregnancy, poverty and being behind in reading and math skills, Lakes says the first thing they did at the Student Achievement Center was to shorten the school day.

“Going from class to class to class – they just stop listening after second period. They’re not engaged,” said Lakes. The goal is to identify solutions for a population of students whose needs are very different from traditional students. Many of her students, for example, are kinesthetic learners who learn best from hands-on instruction, not lectures.

“Students benefit so much from one-on-one, where it’s you and your instructor. There’s some level of comfort there. So if you don’t understand, you’re not embarrassed,” Lakes said.

Learning Matters’ John Tulenko provides a closer look into the Student Achievement Center’s technology-enhanced hands-on learning:

You can also listen to the full interview with Melissa Lakes on dropout prevention strategies here.

American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions to address the dropout crisis.

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