The U.S. Education System and Adolescent Students At-Risk
In an age where getting a good education is increasingly a predictor of future success and stability, many of our youth are at-risk of falling behind in classes and dropping out of high school. Approximately half of all American adolescents engage in activities that put them at-risk and endanger their ability to succeed (Lingren, 1997). Not all of these adolescents will drop out of high school or end up on the streets, but a substantial number of them will not reach their potential in school and may carry feelings of failure with them the rest of their lives. Adolescents spend approximately seven hours a day, five days a week, in middle and high schools, making schools a logical place where at-risk adolescents might receive help. Realizing that this is a crucial time in their development, educators have instituted numerous school programs targeting these adolescents to help them succeed and catch-up to their peers.
This paper will focus on adolescents who are at-risk educationally, and what strategies have proven effective at preventing dropouts and helping them catch up to normal levels for their grade. It will examine theories about how adolescents become at-risk, the needs of these students, several models of intervention, and overall characteristics of successful programs. Although most definitions of “at-risk” include individuals with severe learning disabilities and the mentally handicapped, this paper will focus primarily on students who appear to have the capacity to catch up to their grade level, and who are at-risk because of behaviors, environmental factors, or because they were not given meaningful instruction at an early age. Some observers estimate that “defeated and discouraged” learners account for 80% of at-risk learners, rather than students with severe hardships (Sagor, p. 4).
It has been repeatedly observed that as a child who is behind educationally gets older, his or her chances of getting caught up to grade level decrease. For this reason and others, it is always preferable to intervene as early as possible to help the child. However, many of these children are not recognized as being at-risk until they are adolescents in middle or high school. Accordingly, it is crucial that educational programs are developed that successfully target adolescents in higher-grade levels.
Three main theories describe how adolescents come to fall into the category of being at-risk in the first place, and each theory suggests a different model of remedial intervention. The clinical pathology theory is built upon a medical model and presumes that an at-risk child has a corresponding defect placing him or her at-risk. This defect is seen as being psychological in origin, and clinical treatment is used to address the problem. Most of the current school programs created to help at-risk students are based upon this theory, which believes the source of the problem resides within the...