Psychologist targets Juneau's dropout rate

Posted: Sunday, July 18, 2004

Students will be less likely to drop out if classes are structured to allow all students to have immediate success, says a retired Juneau psychologist.

John Jensen has scheduled two public discussions this month about the high school dropout problem.

The meetings are from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, July 20, and 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, July 27, at Centennial Hall. Admission is free.

About a third of Juneau's freshmen eventually leave school without a diploma, according to district statistics.

Jensen said students drop out because they don't succeed in school and they feel bad about themselves.

Studies by the Juneau School District have shown that the vast majority of students who leave school have failed courses, often in their freshman year. By the time they drop out, they are far behind in the credits needed to graduate.

Jensen would like to change classroom conditions so that students have immediate opportunities to feel successful.

"The question is: Do we deal with the process of how students are thinking and feeling, or not? Or do we deal with the consequences?" he said.

A targeted remedial approach isn't enough, or the dropout problem wouldn't persist, Jensen said.

Remedial classes label the students and lead to poor behavior, he said. Such classes separate those students from the positive energy of students who are doing better, he said.

Instead, Jensen advocates a style of teaching in which students are asked to learn and remember small pieces of information, usually by working with other students.

"The entry point to the problem is with the smallest kind of success for which you give a reward that is immediate," he said.

Students must learn information if they are to think about it, Jensen said. Thinking requires drawing upon details already in the mind, he said.

As students learn, and are applauded for doing so, they feel better about being in the classroom, Jensen said.

Jensen also advocates that teachers make time in the classroom to talk about students' emotions. In doing so, students learn to communicate and they get to know each other and the teacher better.

"The disaffected student is the student who's running on 'empty' already," Jensen said. "He's emotionally tired. When you put people under stress, you have to supply the support that matches the stress."

Jensen said he hopes to hear from students about why they stay in school or leave it. His e-mail is

Successful students may feel the same stresses that dropouts feel, but they found ways to handle them, Jensen said.

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