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Fewer Latinos Dropping Out Of High School In Austin, Compared To National Average

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez
Students walk to William B. Travis High School in South Austin on the first day of the 2017-2018 school year.

The number of Latinos dropping out of high school nationwide is lower than ever before, according to a new study. The dropout rate in Austin is even lower than the rest of the country.

Nationwide, the dropout rate was 10 percent in 2016. In the Austin Independent School District, it was 1.3 percent. About 200 Latino students dropped out of AISD high schools last year.

The number hasn’t always been this low. It's about a third of what it was five years ago, thanks to efforts from the district.

“We know that teaching the whole child, not just the tested parts of the brain, … is very important," said Craig Shapiro, associate superintendent for high schools. "If a student feels safe and secure that they will do better in school. They will feel as if they can take risks and work to have mastered the material they need to master.”

The "whole child" method includes offering more services to deal with concerns  outside the classroom. In 2012, officials noticed many of the students dropping out were dealing with mental health or social issues, so the district added mental health services in schools. It also now provides academic coaches, and teachers give lessons on dealing with stress and anxiety.

AISD is 60 percent Latino, so Shapiro says it’s important to make sure the population are supported in all areas. But the dropout rate for all students is declining, he says, because the district makes sure its efforts start as soon as a student enters school.

“It’s really about intervening and being proactive with our interventions," Shapiro said. "I think that would be a change that we have made over the last couple of years that's really key.”

This is the type of practice that John Bridgeland, the founder of Civic Enterprises and a leader at the GradNation campaign, says works. GradNation works with communities to get the national graduation rate to 90 percent. He says many districts across the country have done what Austin is doing: focused on students most at risk of dropping out.

"The encouraging news to us was that some of the most vulnerable students, including students who have English as second language, have been making significant gains and that schools and districts have been focusing like a laser," Bridgeland said.

He said this work extends beyond high school graduation, as Latino students are also attending and completing college at a higher rate.

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