a dream that
one day all young people will have the personal support they deserve.
personal support during the first-year transition
Over one million high school students drop out in the U.S. each year. That means that every 29 seconds, an American student decides to no longer participate in school. Only 7 of 10 ninth graders today will attain high school diplomas, and only 55 percent of Black and Hispanic youth graduate. Ninth grade is the most common time to drop out, as the social and academic pressures of a new environment arise. One-third of all dropouts occur during the ninth grade year.
92 percent of students enter high school believing they will graduate, so why so many dropouts? Even controlling for academic and personal backgrounds, low levels of school engagement are predictive of dropping out. Peer influence is a key impactor of school engagement, and the influence of peers is greatest at times of transition to a new environment. Incoming freshmen look to older students for cues about school and how to approach it. When ninth graders are not engaged or do not feel they belong at school, they no longer feel compelled to attend and ultimately do not perform to their potential. And ninth grade outcomes have substantial impact on ability to predict whether or not a student will drop out at some point before graduation day. Ultimately, the majority of students who drop out do not do so for primarily academic reasons, and the primary factor - lack of personal support - too often remains unaddressed.
Beyond the personal cost, the economic cost of dropping out on society is enormous: each year's class of dropouts will cost the country over $200 billion during their lifetimes in lost earnings and unrealized tax revenue. Further, dropouts are far more likely to be incarcerated, jobless, and unhealthy.
So, how do we begin to tackle this challenge?
IGNITE empowers the people who are best positioned to increase ninth graders' school engagement and sense of belonging at school - their upperclassmen peers - to make a change. Its dual mission is to:
1) Increase the sense of belonging and school engagement of first-years, ultimately leading to higher satisfaction with school and lower dropout and retention rates; and
2) Develop impactful leaders among upperclassmen.
IGNITE strives to accomplish this through one-on-one peer mentoring. It provides a space in which first-years can safely and comfortably talk with upperclassmen who are similar to them about anything they would like to discuss. Bi-Weekly IGNITE Hangouts each center around a theme related to freshman year. IGNITE Semesterly Field Trips are fun, community-building trips for participants. Below is a sample timeline:
•Late August: Spreading the Word: IGNITE Mentors table and speak at Orientation Week, speak at class assemblies, and table during lunch; Interested students submit IGNITE Matching Survey
•Late August: Matching: IGNITE Administrative Team reviews matching surveys and pairs upperclassmen with freshmen based on gender, similar interests, and predicted compatibility. Mentors are told to reach out to their mentees
•September: Launch: IGNITE Kickoff Hangout for mentor-mentee pairs to meet, exchange information, and begin relationship
•October to April: Programs: Bi-weekly IGNITE Hangouts focused on different topics chosen by the students, and 1-2 IGNITE Field Trips per semester
•April: Closing: End of Year IGNITE Celebratory Retreat
IGNITE's reach to date
Since its founding at Stanton College Preparatory School in Jacksonville, Florida, USA in 2009, IGNITE's easily transportable curriculum has been utilized around the world. Overall, IGNITE's resources have directly helped empower well over 1,000 upperclassmen to mentor over well 1,000 freshmen. As of fall 2019, the IGNITE curriculum has been utilized by 92 schools in 31 states, 7 nations, and 2 territories (and these are just the schools that have reported back!). IGNITE and its team have received local and global recognition and support, including via the: Duke University Enterprising Leadership Initiative (ELI) grant; British Council Global Changemakers Community Action Project (CAP) grant; Clinton Global Initiative University Commitment to Action grant at Duke University; Youth Service America Everyday Young Hero award; Duke University Winfred Quinton Holton Prize for Innovative Research in Education; and Institute for Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation grant (finalist).
IGNITE also works to share its mentoring resources with other programs around the world. Whether it is through the IGNITE model or otherwise, we will not rest until every young person, especially ninth grader, has the personal support and guidance she deserves.