Trying to keep kids in school? BOOST their emotional development

The young man who is disengaged because of trauma at home; the 6th grader from a tough neighborhood who is already acting out; and the young lady who is falling behind in class and feels like the teachers don’t care.  What do they all have in common?  Poor attendance records.  When young people do not experience success in school, they also have no motivation to go, and that becomes a key indicator of their chances for graduation and long term success.

Recent research highlights that the predictors of a high school drop out can be identified in middle school, and that transitions into and out of middle school are prime times for students to get off track for graduation. This is why it is important to focus not only on the academic issues a young person faces, but their social-emotional development as a whole.

Our local United Way has worked in partnership with Boston Public Schools (BPS) and PEAR (Program in Education, Afterschool and Resiliency) on an initiative called BOOST (Boston’s Outreach and Opportunities for Successful Transitions) which employs a holistic approach to improving school environments and keeping kids present in school.

Operating in four Boston middle schools, BOOST targets the early warning signs for dropping out of school:

  • Attendance issues,
  • Behavior problems, and
  • Course failures.

On-site BOOST staff support both the school faculty and students to foster a more positive school climate – ranging from trauma-informed care training for teachers to intense academic support, facilitated socialization, and major intervention for the most at-risk students.  As a result, in 2012, these schools reported fewer suspensions, fewer violent incidents, and an increase in the number of kids willing to ask for help and support.

We see firsthand in these schools how a supportive environment can make the difference between a young person who is nervous about entering high school but ultimately finds the support to succeed, versus a student who gets frustrated and gives up or acts out.

Summer programs that keep young minds sharp are important, but we also have to be ready to welcome them to a positive school environment, armed with resources to address the social and emotional barriers that affect a student’s ability to succeed. This fall as students head back to school, we must remember that we all play a role in ensuring they are ready start – and finish – the school year.

Special thanks to State Street for their support of the initiative.