How do local, community-based programs for dropouts work? Do they make a difference for their participants?
Programs developed and managed locally serve large numbers of youth, and their innovations are often the foundation for major national initiatives, including YouthBuild, STRIVE, and others. Yet most research in this area has focused on multi-site, national initiatives. While valuable, these studies have limited generalizability to organizations wrestling with local programmatic and policy challenges.
Furthermore, some local programs reach the full range of the dropout population, including those who read at the eighth-grade level or below. These youth make up the largest proportion of dropouts, but are excluded from nearly all of the national initiatives—and many local ones as well—because of funder requirements that participant outcomes, such as GED attainment, be achieved rapidly.
For my study, I wanted to take a close look at the nuts-and-bolts of programs, not just the overall structure and outcomes. What do programs do that youth find engaging and demanding? How do the young people respond? What do they consider most useful for their development?
Now, I am not a researcher. I do, however, have years of experience directing and supporting programs for young adults and adolescents. My paper is geared toward raising questions and pointing to gaps that might be useful to the field in conducting more formal studies.