Although each case is different, educational experts say many junior high school dropouts have experienced emotional or academic problems long before they reach the point of giving up.
"Mentally, a lot of them have dropped out as far back as third or fourth grade," said Jewell Henderson, a Los Angeles Unified School District adviser. "Teachers are even beginning to identify children in kindergarten who could be potential dropouts."
Gary Lenkeit, director of the Institute for Motivational Development's Los Angeles office, said many parents who bring their underachieving children in for counseling report that there have been problems for at least two to five years. "The parents think the problems will disappear if they wait it out," he said. "But usually they just get worse over time."
What can parents do to help their children? Educators and counselors offer the following advice:
* Communicate with teachers. A child who regularly doesn't want to go to school may be experiencing problems that could be easily corrected if educators were informed.
"Sometimes it can be as simple as changing a child's seat, or finding out that another child is being mean on the playground," Henderson said. "Parents need to find out why a child doesn't want to go."
* Seek out educational resources where needed. Experts say a young child who is falling behind scholastically often develops self-esteem problems, which in turn can lead to further academic difficulties. Parents can request tutors or resource specialists in the public schools to assist their children to catch up. School psychologists can provide free counseling when needed.
* Ask children about any difficulties they may be having. Statistics show that most junior high school dropouts experience problems early in seventh grade, a time when they are faced with a new level of responsibility.
"They're starting puberty, there are a lot of social issues coming up for them, and on top of that they also have to learn how to handle their time better with changing classes and more teachers," Lenkeit said. "Some of them need help with that."
* Get involved. "Schools can offer a lot of resources, but they can't take the place of parents," said Charles Esplain, director of counseling and guidance services for the Los Angeles district. "If parents don't take the time to find out what's going on with their child, that sends a powerful message. If they want their child to care about school, they have to care too."