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The key to keeping teens in school

Service learning tackles high dropout rates and civic disengagement.

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Every day 7 thousand high school students drop out of school – and the American high school graduation rate hasn't budged for almost three decades. In an effort to jump-start those rates, General Colin Powell recently announced the development of 100 dropout prevention summits across the US.

On the heels of that step comes even more hope for reducing the number of dropouts and it includes the needed spawning of more civic engagement among young people.

Service learning is an educational technique that combines classroom learning with community service. What's critical is that it is not only key to getting more students engaged in their communities, but, according to a report released last week by Civic Enterprises, it is also a powerful tool to keep students on track to graduate from high school.

A nationally representative survey of high school students, including at-risk students, paints a hopeful picture. Eighty-two percent of all service-learning students said their view of school improved because of their service-learning classes, and 77 percent said that service learning had a big effect on motivating them to work hard. Furthermore, 64 percent of service-learning students claimed that service learning would have a fairly or very big effect on keeping them from dropping out of school.

Dropout crisis reforms combat a number of barriers – they must increase attendance, student motivation, engagement, academic performance, and create learning environments free of disruptive behavior. Research shows that service learning accomplishes each of these.

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