Dream While Awake


Mike Muir

“Bright Futures” is a reminder that we have dreams for our students. We hope that all our middle school kids can have a Rick Wormeli, Mark Springer, Janet Nesin Reynolds, or (substitute your favorite middle level teacher here). We want them to enjoy learning, to be engaged, love being in school, and be prepared for high school and beyond.

The last several years, however, I’ve had the wonderful experience of working with hard-to-teach students. These students have lots of different reasons why they are hard-to-teach, many of the reasons they don’t even have any control over. And I’ve been lucky enough to work with a fabulous team that creates schools to reach these students and help them achieve our dreams for them.

But they represent a different face – the face of the too many kids who don’t love school, aren’t engaged and aren’t getting what they need academically for their lives in the near and distant future.

Maine isn’t near the top nationally in it’s dropout rate, but, frankly, I find “one” too many.

According to the report from Maine’s Juvenile Justice’s Joint Task Force, Maine’s dropout rate is about 5.4%. That’s 21 students a day walk out of school and never return! The class of 2009 failed to graduate 3800 students. Our dropouts pose a high cost to each of us. Each dropout costs us the taxpayers about $290,000, and disengaged youth are significantly more likely to enter the justice system, thus straining taxpayers further.

Now, you might be wondering, aren’t dropouts a high school problem?

Well, in one sense, perhaps. By US DE definition, a dropout is someone who enters 9th grade, but doesn’t graduate in four years.

But there are two very real ways that dropouts are a middle grades problem. First, there are too many students who enter 6th grade and never make it to 9th (and are, therefore, never officially counted as dropouts). And second, not only do we have good indications by 6th grade who is likely to dropout, but a student’s middle grades experience can influence if they are simply statistically likely [ital] to dropout or if they become that statistic.

What can middle schools do to help? Research helps provide the answer. “Putting Middle Grades Students on the Graduation Path: A Policy and Practice Brief” (available on the National Middle School Association’s web site provides lots of guidance.

More importantly, the more components of This We Believe the middle grades can implement, the better off students at-risk of dropping out are.

If we want all students to be successful then we need to dream about how to create schools where even those at risk of not being successful can thrive.

This post written by Mike Muir based on his presentation at the MAMLE conference, Oct. 2010. Mike Muir works with the Citadel Group, a group that creates schools designed to motivate students. He’s directing their statewide virtual project-based program for at-risk middle and high school youth here in Maine.


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