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  -- Dropping Out of School

So Your Teen Wants to Drop Out of School&
By Judy Shepps Battle

"Mom and Dad, I need your signatures to drop out of school. I haven't been going to classes so if you don't sign they will kick me out later anyway. Or they'll tell me to go to summer school and you know I won't go. So sign!"
                                                           Jimmy K., age 16

                                                         
Any parent who has had a similar experience will remember their initial disbelief, anger and helplessness. Most will also recall shame and self blame and how difficult it was to tell anyone that their teen was a dropout.

I know. One of my children made the decision to quit school three weeks before graduation. A classic bright underachiever, he had delayed doing necessary course assignments until it was too late to turn them in. His adolescent solution was to simply leave the system.

I don't know if he thought school officials would extend the deadline if he threatened to quit or whether he just wanted to avoid the embarrassment of not attending graduation. Or if he truly believed that school was "irrelevant to his life" as he had been saying for a long while.

What I do know is that my reaction to his demand for my signature on the withdrawal forms was intense.

At first, I simply didn't want to sign. I thought if I just said no to his request he would change his mind, attend summer school, and graduate in August. He made it clear he was leaving school whether the papers were signed or not.

Then I lectured him about the statistical fact that most kids who drop out do not continue their education. That they had significantly lower lifetime earnings nearly 50 percent less    than their non dropout peers. He said he knew and that would not be his future.

Next, I got angry and accused him of not following through on commitments, being lazy, and other negatives that I am not proud of. He listened quietly and asked me again to sign the forms.

At that point, I realized his decision was not about me and that he was entitled to learn his life lessons just as I had learned mine. I signed on the dotted line even though I felt awful. He thanked me and left to file the papers.

Two weeks later, he took the General Education Development (GED) test, passed it with flying colors, and received a state diploma at the same time as his friends. He has since gone on to obtain a wonderful managerial job and gift me with two delightful grandchildren.

He is bright and witty, an excellent employee, a loyal husband and father, and a son that I am very proud of. He just did not fit into the standard academic lockstep. His learning style is creative and visual and he needs autonomy.

Actually, he is a lot like his father and mother.

The following are some insights that I wish others had shared with me during this difficult time. If you are dealing with a dropout situation, I hope that they are helpful.

" You are not alone. A recent report from the Editorial Projects in Education (EDE) Research Center estimates that 1 in 3 high school students in the Class of 2006 will not graduate this year. Indeed, this newspaper recently reported that Indiana has the worst dropout rate in the nation.

" Although many adolescents drop out of high school, most do not drop out of life. Many are quite successful in careers that do not depend upon a traditional academic path and others will later resume a traditional academic path and become doctors, lawyers, and teachers just as we had wished for them during their rebel years.

" Just because your teen has taken an adult like step to drop out of school, it does not mean that he has the maturity to plan a happy and productive life. It does not mean that she does not still need parental guidance, consistent rules, and unconditional love and support. To the contrary, left without the structure of a six hour school day, your child may need personal and professional help with time management, goal setting, and creating a positive identity.

One of the lessons I learned from my son's dropout experience is how to be a detached cheerleader. I root for him finding and growing into his identity. If he asks for help, I respond. If not, I simply cheer in prayer and meditation.

There are many lessons learned in the high school years. My son, in dropping out of the system, taught me some very valuable ones.


Judy Shepps Battle is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e-mail at writeaction@aol.com. Additional information on this and other topics can be found at her website at http://www.writeaction.com/.

Copyright 2006 Judy Shepps Battle


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