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News Release

U of M's "Check & Connect" program tackles problem of school dropouts

New grant will expand program to include community college students in Minneapolis and Kentucky

Contacts: Ryan Maus, University News Service, (612) 624-1690, maus@umn.edu

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (03/31/2009) —Nearly 1.23 million U.S. students do not graduate high school with their peers each year, and dropouts (who are more likely to become unemployed, incarcerated and/or dependent on social programs) are estimated to cost U.S. taxpayers $76 billion annually. The U of M’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI) in the College of Education and Human Development has been successfully combating this problem in K-12 education in Minnesota and around the country with its targeted “Check & Connect” program.

Now, a new research project at ICI has begun work to expand the Check & Connect model into postsecondary education for use with students ages 18-30 who are at risk of dropping out of community college.

“President Obama has publicly stated that dropout prevention is a key component in improving America’s education system,” said Sandy Christenson, director of Check & Connect and a professor of educational psychology at the U of M. “Check & Connect has a long track record of proven success in this area, and we are excited to be expanding and improving upon the program.”

Check & Connect is one of just 22 dropout prevention interventions rated by the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse and the only one found to have strong evidence of positive effects for staying in school.

The new project, titled “Making the Connection: Engaging and Retaining Young Adults in Postsecondary Education” is funded by a two-year, $727,237 grant from the Institute for Education Sciences and will involve partnering with two colleges -– Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) and Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky – to modify the intervention for postsecondary students at risk of disengaging from school.

In addition, a newly updated Check & Connect manual for K-12 schools, building on the learning of the program's 19 year history, was released in December.

Check & Connect, initially developed through a federally funded research project in 1990 to address the high rate of dropouts among secondary students with disabilities, is implemented by a monitor/mentor who works with students and families over time (at least two years) to maximize personal contact and opportunities to build trusting relationships. Student levels of engagement (such as attendance, grades and suspensions) are "checked" regularly and used to guide the monitors' efforts to increase and maintain students' "connection" with school.

Studies of the program’s effectiveness have shown impressive results. In one study of students in grades 7-9 who had emotional and learning disabilities, 68 percent of those who participated in the Check & Connect intervention were, at the end of ninth grade, on track to graduate in five years compared to just 29 percent of the comparison group. In another study with students in grades 9-12, students with emotional/behavioral disabilities who participated in Check & Connect were significantly less likely to drop out of school than similar students in the control group over the 4-5 year period (39 percent vs. 63 percent). And in a study of more than 360 elementary students with and without disabilities who were at-risk for disengaging from school, the percent of students arriving to school on time (no tardies) increased from 42 percent at time of referral to 86 percent after two years of Check & Connect.

“We’ve found that relationships are essential for students’ behavior change, commitment to learning, and academic progress,” said Christenson. “And we’ve learned the necessity to engage students on multiple levels: academically, behaviorally, cognitively, and affectively. Through Check & Connect we strive to address all those components.”

ICI held a training session with the updated program model this week on campus for school administrators, teachers, researchers, community professionals and others interested in implementing Check & Connect in their K-12 schools or youth organizations; another training session will be held in June. For more information on the program and the research behind it, visit http://ici.umn.edu/checkandconnect

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