Connecting with Students: Strategies for Increasing Graduation Rates

By Elaine Gould, M.Ed., and Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.

"What do you care what I think anyway? I don't even count ... Right? I could disappear forever and it wouldn't make any difference. I might as well not even exist at this school, remember?" (Tanen & Hughes,1985). Judd Nelson, playing the character John Bender in the 1985 teen classic The Breakfast Club, expressed the frustration felt by many of today's high school students at risk of dropping out of school.

The 2008 Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Practice Guide, Dropout Prevention, recommends six evidence-based intervention strategies aimed at preventing students from dropping out of school. One of these recommendations, assigning adult advocates to students at risk of dropping out, is an intensive, targeted intervention that requires developing a long-term partnership between a student and a trained adult advocate. The advocate, together with the student and his or her family, addresses the student's academic and social needs with the goal of increasing the student's chance of experiencing school success and graduating from high school (Clarke, Cobb, Finn, Rumberger, & Smink, 2008).

When students who are at risk of dropping out of school have a relationship with a supportive adult advocate, they become more connected to their school. They attend school more regularly, exhibit more positive social behaviors, and are more academically successful and engaged in school activities than students at risk who do not have adult mentors. Adult advocates hold students accountable for academic and behavioral progress and encourage them to be successful in school and in the community (Anderson, Christenson, Sinclair, & Lehr, 2004).

Check and Connect is an intervention that focuses on designing solutions for more positive academic and social outcomes for students who are disengaged from their school environment and are at risk for dropping out of school (Anderson et al., 2004; Christenson, Thurlow, Sinclair, Lehr, Kaibel, Reschly et al., 2008). Check and Connect is implemented through the development of a relationship between a student and a committed and caring adult monitor who helps the student to interact positively within school and community environments. The Check and Connect monitor helps students to remain focused on school by regularly meeting with the student and his or her family and monitoring academic and behavioral progress (Christenson et al., 2008).

Check and Connect focuses on seven key elements that guide the monitor's encounters with the student:

  1. Building a trusting, long-term relationship with the goal of increasing student success at school
  2. Developing the student's problem-solving skills such as conflict resolution and coping skills that enable the student to be successful at school
  3. Individualizing interventions to address the specific student's needs
  4. Keeping students engaged in learning and extracurricular activities
  5. Stressing the importance of education for the student's future
  6. Being aware of the signs of student disengagement (inconsistent attendance, negative behavior, academic failure)
  7. Staying connected to the student and his or her family (Christenson et al., 2008).

The Check and Connect intervention can be implemented with students in the elementary grades when the first signs of disengagement, such as absenteeism, behavioral challenges, and academic failure, are observed. Interventions and supports are less intense when disengagement from school is addressed with younger students. When the same issues are addressed at the high school level, however, students require more intensive support because, often, they have become completely disengaged from school (Christenson et al., 2008).

Check and Connect can provide the encouraging and supportive relationships with an adult advocate that can help students feel a sense of belonging at school. To learn about other effective dropout prevention programs and associated references, visit the What Works Clearinghouse at For information about students with disabilities and dropout prevention, visit the National Dropout Prevention Center at For additional information on increasing graduation rates, please visit


Anderson, A., Christenson, S., Sinclair, M., & Lehr, C. (2004). Check and connect: The importance of relationships for promoting engagement with school. Journal of School Psychology, 42, 95-113.

Christenson, S., Thurlow, M. L., Sinclair, M., Lehr, C., Kaibel, C., Reschly, A. et al. (2008). Check & connect: A comprehensive student engagement intervention manual. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.

Clarke, D., Cobb, L., Finn, B., Rumberger, J., & Smink, J. (2008). Dropout prevention: A practice guide (NCEE 2008-4025). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

Tanen, N. & Hughes, J. (Producers) & Hughes, J. (Director). (1985). The breakfast club. United States: Universal Pictures.