Eighth-grade students at Woodland Middle School learned the importance of not dropping out of school through CHOICES, an interactive workshop presented by the CHOICES Education Group, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle, in partnership with community outreach specialists from Fibre Federal Community Union.

The two-day CHOICES workshop uses a proactive approach over the course of two class periods (one each day) to address the epidemic of students dropping out of high school across Washington State and the entire country.

Shannon Cahoon and Shantelle Davidson, community outreach educators for Fibre Federal, engaged eighth grade students with a variety of activities during the two periods each student attended. “One student drops out of high school every 26 seconds in Washington State alone,” Davidson taught classes. “I find this statistic so shocking – how will you be able to provide for yourself without an education? The first step in achieving your life goals is graduating high school.”

Cahoon and Davidson used an 11-foot scroll depicting a lifespan of 100 years to show students how decisions made in school can affect a person’s entire life. “Many students may feel like school will last forever when, in reality, it’s only a very small part of their lifespan,” said Davidson. “However, the choices students make during school years will have a profound impact on the nature and quality of their lives.”

In an activity designed to emphasize the importance of education to career opportunities, three students in each class volunteered to play the roles of job seekers with three different levels of education – education beyond high school; high school graduate; and high school dropout. The rest of the class helped decide how qualified each volunteer would be for six different jobs based on the level of their education. “The students quickly realized that a higher level of education offers more job opportunities,” said Davidson. “No job is a ‘bad job,’ certainly, however a good education directly affects the variety of careers someone may consider and obtain.”

Students learned the importance of money management when a student volunteer pretended to drop out of school in order to start enjoying life early without a high school diploma. In the scenario, the volunteer must find a job after getting kicked out of his or her parents’ house. Finding a job that pays $15 an hour – a monthly paycheck of $2,500.00 – the volunteer and class discover together how difficult it would be to pay for living expenses. “The activity is both a lot of fun but also an incredibly powerful wake-up call,” said Davidson. “The volunteer runs out of money halfway through paying their bills and the class realizes how this paycheck-to-paycheck struggle could continue for the rest of their lives.”

Shantelle Davidson (far left) guides eighth graders through an activity where a student volunteer has to make ends meet with only a minimum wage job after dropping out of school.

At the end of the two-day workshop, students signed high school graduation challenge certificates, pledging that they intend to continue on in their educations, eventually earning their diplomas. The certificates were each signed by their teacher, Joe Bosch, to reinforce the importance of the pledge they’re making to themselves.

Davidson applied to become one of Fibre Federal’s community outreach specialists in order to reach out to youth in the area. “I love working with kids, so when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance,” she said. “I really needed someone like me to help guide me when I was working my way through high school.”

Davidson’s favorite part of the workshop happens when students start to comprehend the importance of a high school diploma. “I love that ‘ah-ha’ moment when the activities begin to click for students,” she said. “I also love it when I visit a school a year later and the students remember me and what I taught them.”

Following the signing of their challenge certificates, Stacy Mouat, Woodland Public Schools’ Truancy Specialist, spoke with students about how truancy specialists can help struggling students make a plan to graduate. “If you drop out of school, you will have an incredibly difficult time moving forward,” she told students. “My job is to help you finish school so that 25-year-old you won’t hate high school you for not finishing school.”

Mouat emphasized the variety of ways Woodland Public Schools provides for students to earn their diplomas including TEAM High School which offers more self-directed learning or Lewis River Academy which provides ways for students to earn credits at home. “The choices you make in high school are some of the most important ones you will ever make for your future,” she said. “The habits you form now are the ones that will carry you for the rest of your lives.”

To learn more about the CHOICES Education Group and their work, visit their website at www.choices.org.