When students drop out of high school, substantial social and economic consequences can persist throughout their lives. They are more likely to be unemployed, to become teenage parents, to become involved in the criminal justice system, and to earn low wages throughout their lifetimes. Dropout rates soared during the COVID-19 pandemic as schools struggled to adapt and keep students engaged. Virtual classes, hybrid learning options, and unexpected closures characterized the 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 school years, complicating an unprecedented and unpredictable period. For many students who were on the cusp of completing high school, that milestone was suddenly out of reach because of missed school, failing grades, and the dual pressures and trauma of the pandemic and the economic downturn. While the pandemic brought greater attention to the need to provide support to disengaged students, school systems have long struggled to reconnect with students who are not regularly attending school or who drop out.
During the 2021–2022 school year, Communities In Schools® (CIS®) introduced the Reengagement Coordinator (RC) Initiative, with the goal of reengaging high school students (particularly eleventh and twelfth grade students) who did not reenroll in school or were chronically absent. The CIS mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. CIS is a national network of independent organizations and partners that connects 1.8 million students with caring adults and resources designed to help students succeed. The CIS network includes 114 affiliated organizations and licensed partnerships working in 3,270 sites across 25 states and the District of Columbia. Each CIS affiliate is an independent, local nonprofit organization that implements the evidence-based CIS model to meet the unique needs of their community. The affiliates play an important role in connecting students, schools, and families with local partners and organizations. The RC Initiative focuses on reconnecting and supporting students on a pathway toward completing their education with a plan for a successful future. Data from CIS show that, on average in the affiliates participating in the RC Initiative, almost 100 students per school (6,905 students from 71 schools served by CIS) were disengaged at the start of the 2021–2022 school year.
CIS partnered with MDRC in 2021 to conduct a qualitative evaluation of the implementation of the RC Initiative. The evaluation set out to answer key questions related to the reasons for students’ disengagement, how RCs identified students, which strategies were most effective, and the potential pathways for reengagement. Data were collected through interviews and focus groups with 14 program managers in 11 CIS affiliates, and with 34 RCs in 19 CIS affiliates. As part of their managerial role at their affiliates, program managers oversaw and managed the RCs; they were not involved in providing direct services to students.
In addition, the study used data collected by CIS National from RCs through specific outreach trackers and the CIS data management system. This information was tracked in a specific reengagement intake form completed for each student on an RC’s caseload, as well as information about the specific milestones for students’ chosen reengagement pathways.
This brief summarizes the main findings and shares takeaways and considerations for practitioners in schools and other organizations who are looking to work with and reengage students or create a dedicated position to reengage students.