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One Way To Fight The Dropout Crisis? Make School A Summer Job

Courtesy of the Student Recovery Program
Greeley-Evans District 6
Missael Villareal spending some summer vacation hours in a University of Northern Colorado computer lab

Even with falling dropout rates in Colorado, thousands of high school students are still slipping through the cracks each year. One program in Northern Colorado is fighting the dropout crisis a few dozen students at a time, by paying some of the most at-risk young people to attend classes over the summer.

The Student Recovery Program operates in Greeley-Evans District 6, focusing exclusively on low-income Latino males, who are statistically more likely to drop out of high school than almost any other demographic group in Colorado. It's funded with private donations as well as state and local grants.

So how does paying students to stay in school work?

The program's 8-week summer session takes place at the University of Northern Colorado's computer labs. SRP students approach the extra class sessions as a summer job, earning $5 a day for participating, and $15 to $25 for every unit of study they complete. There's no cap on what they can make.

It's not just the money that makes the Student Recovery Program work, though. It also provides personalized instruction that can be easily tailored to each student's unique needs. SRP monitors their progress, making sure students don't slide back into old habits when they're back in the regular classroom.

"Once they've been enrolled we follow them through to graduation," says program director Suzette Luster.

The program flags candidates as early as their freshman year. They typically have attendance problems, or are failing math or language arts - or both. In a given year 40 students - 20 each from Greeley Central and Northridge high schools - show up on the University of Northern Colorado campus to get caught up, using the school's computer labs for the online-based learning program. (There are 60 total students in the program, but only 40 attend the summer session)

Many of the students say the money is a bonus, but find what's even more valuable is the individual help they get from teachers and their fellow students.

"They really connect with you, they come and talk to you, you just feel like you're a family here," says Jose Avalos, a junior. "It's not just the teachers, either - it's the students here, too. They end up being your really good friends and you help each other from that too."

Interview Highlights

Director Suzette Luster On How The Program Works:

"At freshman year kids will already start to exhibit signs that they're at risk for dropping out, so they're already on our radar, and we follow them. Toward the end of their freshman year (we look at) what interventions the school already tried to offer them – did those interventions improve their performance? And if not, we try to take it to the next level, and those Latino males are then asked to be a part of our program – and we follow them through to graduation."

Lead Advocate Sergio Ayala On The Intangible Skills SRP Students Gain:

"Aside from academics, we try to teach communication skills so they can advocate for themselves. We want them to ask questions for themselves, we want them to learn how to talk to a teacher if they're falling behind in class. One of the biggest things we've started doing lately is just going with them to talk to a teacher, but not saying anything personally. They feel empowered knowing that I'm there, and they open up a lot more to the teacher."

What The Students Think:

Luis Medrano: "I had a feeling I was going to graduate before, but this is helping me a lot more so I know I'm going to graduate now. Only two people from my family have graduated, so now I just want to be the third."

Lucas Dominguez: "I'm mostly like, one of those quiet guys that just sits there and does what the teacher says. I don't really like going up to teachers and asking them for things. I'm starting to be more talkative toward the teachers, more productive with my work."

Jose Avalos: "Going to college is one of my number-one things I want to do right after I graduate high school. And if I want a good job I have to graduate high school and go to college. And my family's really pushing me [to do that] too."


As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
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