Categorized | Education

Canadian high schools getting creative in push to raise graduation rates

Posted on 15 September 2016 by admin

Three retired guidance counsellors from an Ontario school board will be reaching out to hundreds of wayward high-school students this month, making phone calls as part of an inventive strategy to persuade dropouts to return to class.

Strengthening graduation rates is a priority across the country, and, as Canadian students head back to school this fall, educators are also focused on the thousands who have turned their backs on the classroom.

They may drop out because of personal issues or missed assignments. But the evidence is clear: More education helps students lead healthier and more productive lives. One study, by a former federally funded non-profit organization, estimated that high-school dropouts cost Canada’s social and criminal justice systems $1.3-billion each year.

“There is a real moral imperative here,” said Nick D’Avella, superintendent of education – student success, at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. “Kids need to have their high-school diploma in order to get into a whole variety of postsecondary programs.”

His school board’s approach to getting students to complete their high-school diploma involves a team of three retired guidance counsellors who provide a personal touch. They each receive a list of students who did not register for school but are close to meeting their graduation requirements. The counsellors are determined to bring these students back to school – they call in the morning and later in the evening, refusing to settle for voice-mail.

Zavina Kheir, one of the three retired guidance counsellors who will be setting aside time each day to go through their lists, has been frustrated at times in the past, especially when phone numbers and addresses have changed.

But when she does reach a student, Ms. Kheir gives them options to return, which could involve a night-school class or a co-op program.

“It’s a challenge, but when you get them to do something you want them to do, the reward is unbelievable,” she said. “I feel good saving students.”

Since the initiative began at the school board six years ago, the counsellors have been able to bring 1,178, of the roughly 1,700 students contacted, back to school. Half of those students received their high-school diplomas.

Graduation rates across the country have generally been climbing. In Ontario, 85 per cent of students graduate within five years, in part because of specific grants from the province such as the one that paid for the Toronto Catholic board’s initiative.

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