• Executive Summary

    This project aims to tackle the problem of dropout rates within the Denver Metro area. Lower graduation rates are a problem that are plaguing than nation’s biggest cities more and more each year. In 2016 there were eighty-seven schools in Colorado where fewer than 66% of the students graduated on time. To narrow the scope even more, within the city of Denver only 76.7% of public-school students graduated in six years. While some statistics claim that dropout rates are declining, the issue goes deeper than this. Graduation rates are still extremely low, even in six years, and this is due to an educational system lacking certain components.

    It is clear that in the world today having a degree is an enormous advantage in terms of finding a job and enjoying a sustainable life. However, in society it is clear that at risk students are often overlooked. These at-risk children often do not have the support system at home that many other children do. They are in an extremely tough place and with very little assistance from public schools thy are left to figure it out on their own or give up and dropout. The choice seems obvious for many of these children and ultimately these decisions are what cause them to have a difficult life. These kids who do not graduate from high school have very few practical skills that employers would look for, and so making money becomes an extreme challenge. This is ultimately the vicious cycle that gets so many inner-city kids involved in gang activity and drug usage. These decisions affect all aspects of a child’s life and will alter their path forever. According to a report by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 31% of dropouts were using illicit substances. The truth is many of these children are able to access education in some way or another, but the lack of a support system to keep them motivated and engaged in school is ultimately what allows them to disengage from classes and drop out.

    Access to a quality education is what many of these underprivileged kids lack. An education with all components to allow kids without resources at their disposal to earn an education and finally break free from the cycle that has caused so many of these at-risk children to ultimately dropout. The causes of each student dropping out is unique to each student, but generally can be traced back to a few main causes. To see all of these causes mapped out, look under the description of the system section. Ultimately our group has notices that this can be labeled by one main cause, lack of a support system. A support system gives kids motivation, to attend school, perform in school and continue to try to better themselves. Something that all of these at-risk students are lacking in their lives.

    Our ultimate goal is to attempt to create a kind of support system through an after-school lacrosse program. By introducing a program that creates this athletic intervention without a financial burden, we hope to encourage children of all ages to become invested in not only their athletic success but hope this will translate to academic and social success as well. By allowing students to spend their time playing sports, we reduce the time they have to find themselves involved in bad situations and making poor life decisions. There are various stakeholders that are heavily invested in the issue dropout rates. These groups pf stakeholders are:

    1. Students in Underserved Communities
    2. Parents of Students in Underserved Communities
    3. Denver Public School System
    4. Denver/Colorado Government
    5. Colorado Residents
    6. City Lax

    For a complete explanation of each group, check under the stakeholder analysis section.

    After all of this research we have decided that creating some sort of partnership with Denver Public Schools will allow us the best opportunity to gain access to these at-risk kids and attempt to make a positive impact in their life and their view of education. There is a model that exists called Harlem Lacrosse, currently operating in 5 major cities around the United States. This nonprofit organization aims to provide a support system to help students in academics through lacrosse. By modeling our program off of theirs, learning from their successes and failures, we gain a wealth of knowledge to help us implement our own program. We will consider Denver’s unique characteristics and existing conditions in order to tailor a program specifically made to benefit Denver Public Schools.

    On top of this, City Lax is an existing program within the Denver Metro area looking to create opportunities for underserved youth in the area. They already have an academic component to their program, but we feel this could be significantly improved. They are currently not partnered with any existing schools or school districts and this is where we hope to take action. City Lax has identified that financial barriers are what mainly hold back kids from playing lacrosse and they do a good job minimizing these costs as much as possible. Their access to equipment, and financial resources are ultimately two very big challenges that could be avoided by partnering with them moving forward. There are various ways in which our project could ultimately help to tackle this problem from various angles; but by placing more emphasis on the academic component we believe we can create meaningful and tangible change within the community.

  • Problem Definition

    The issue that our team has decided to tackle is high school dropout rates in Denver. According to a new study from “America’s Promise Alliance”, ranks the dropout rates in Denver Public Schools as one of the worst in the nation.  By going the route of keeping kids in school, then issues such as drug use, poverty, mental health, and overall opportunity for success would improve simultaneously. We chose to tackle this issue in Denver because it is so close to us and each city’s school dropout rates are fueled by different factors. Starting in one city rather than tackling this issue nationwide will make a positive impact in our community. Our solution can then be trialed in one area to then potentially be tailored and facilitated elsewhere. The graduation rate in Denver is currently 64.8% and we strive to heighten this statistic. Access to education can change the trajectory of a child’s life. Our countries’ public school system lacks programs that are designed to identify students who are at risk of dropping out and inspire them to aim high and stay in school.


    History of the Problem

    Historically, Denver has had one of the highest dropout rates in the country. The decline started around 1972 simutaneously as income levels dropped in the Denver city area. This is common for school drop-out rates to drop as cincome levels fall as many problems arise as poverty increases. According to the US Department of Education in the "American Graduate", Colorado ranks 37th in the United States for graduation with a rate of 74 percent, behind the national rate of 78.2 percent as published in the 2013 Building A Grad Nation Report. For Black/African American (65%), Hispanic/Latino (60%) and American Indian/Alaska Native or Native American (52%) students in Colorado, the numbers are far worse. Within the City and County of Denver, dropout rates are proportionately higher than the statistics in other parts of our state. During the 2011-2012 school year, 2,013 kids dropped out. And while the Denver County dropout rate has improved in recent years, progress has plateaued and more than 2,000 young people are still choosing to leave school in Denver County alone. Fortunately, the graduation rate has slowly been on the rise. Data shows that for the ninth consecutive year, on-time graduation rates have increased. In 2006-2007, the graduation rate was at a mere 39 percent. However, in 2015-2016, graduation rates rose to 67 percent. According to DPS officials, the dropout rate has decreased by nearly two-thirds over the past decade. The report shows that in 2005-2006 the dropout rate was 11.1 percent and last year, the dropout rate had declined to only 4 percent.

  • Description of the System

    Dropout rates have many interconnected factors that influence it. Students in the Denver Public School System drop out of school for a variety of reasons. Most of students drop out either because of poverty or a bad family structure. If a student has no money, then the idea of making a quick buck on the streets is more appealing than going to school. In addition, if their parents did not finish high school they don’t have adults in their life who really value education. When you don’t graduate high school, then your chances of poverty increase. When a student has no degree, it is hard to find an honest job. If a student drops out and gets involved in illegal activities such as selling drugs, their chance for substance addiction and gang related activities sky rockets. After being involved in these illicit dealings, a child has no motivation to go back to school and get their GED.

  • Stakeholder Analysis:

    1. Students in Underserved Communities
      1. Interest: These students are looking for opportunities to play sports that differ from their physical education programs.
      2. Needs: Students need academic guidance and tools to help them further their education and or jobs after high school.
      3. Power: These students are often rendered powerless because of the current system.
    2. Parents of Students in Underserved Communities
      1. Interest: Parents want programs that their kids can be a part of that expose them to new opportunities and teaches them important life lessons such as teamwork and accountability.
      2. Needs: Parents need an after school program for their kids to stay after when they are at work. However, oftentimes they can’t afford to change their work schedules so our after school program has to be within the normal time window.
      3. Power: They have the power to encourage their children to dream bigger than they ever did.
    3. Denver Public School System
      1. Interest: The school system would be interested in incorporating more after school programs that keep their students actively engaged and offers tutors and mentors.
      2. Needs: DPS needs to keep their students in school, motivated, and involved. In addition, they need to create a positive learning experience. Lastly, they need to offer guidance to make sure students graduate on time and have a plan in place for after graduation.
      3. Power: Push for new legislation with in the school system. Push for programs to support the underserved.
    4. Denver/Colorado Government
      1. Interest: If students in at risk neighborhoods have a place to go after school they are less likely to participate in illegal activities such as drug use and gang violence. This program could intervene to keep at risk students on the right track. As a result, crime rates and drug usage in Denver will decrease.
      2. Needs: The Colorado government needs students to graduate on time. If tax money is funding these schools, and new students are coming in each year, the government needs students in the public schools to graduate on time.
      3. Power: They can allocate more money to DPS.
    5. Colorado Residents
      1. Interest: If crime rates and drug usage significantly decrease Denver will become a more attractive city to live in. As a result, big businesses will bring their headquarters to Denver. This will create new jobs and stimulate the Colorado economy.
      2. Needs: Residents need their communities to be safe.
      3. Power: Vote for elected officials that support programs for underserved communities.
    6. City Lax
      1. Interest: City Lax would be interested in furthering their mission across the Denver Metro area.
      2. Needs: City Lax needs to continue to reach members of the community, in order to receive donations to keep operations going.
      3. Power: To use lacrosse to change the lives of Denver youth.


    All of these stakeholder’s desire to make a difference in the lives of underserved children in the Denver area as well as make Denver a better place for everyone to live. Stakeholders see the urgency in this issue because over last decade high school dropout rates have increased in Denver Public Schools. In terms of power, Denver Public Schools with the help of the Colorado government have the most power to make a change. Through increased funding, Denver Public Schools can create more tailored after school programs to combat dropout rates and help their students.


    Current Approaches

    Various actors in the Greater Denver Metro area have tried to address high school drop out rates using a variety of different approaches; only one of which utilizes lacrosse. City Lax is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create educational and enrichment opportunities for youth in underserved Denver neighborhoods through the sport of lacrosse. They aim to grow the game and provide opportunities to urban youth who are often overlooked. After conducting stakeholder interviews, we found that financial barriers are the top reason why underserved youth didn’t participate in lacrosse. City Lax does a good job of eliminating financial barriers by eliminating costs to children in the sports-based youth development program. However, we feel as though they fall short when it comes to addressing education. Currently, City Lax provide access to academic support and educational guidance but they don’t partnership with any local schools. By partnering with schools directly, students who don’t have access to the Internet at home can learn about and take advantage of this opportunity. Next, by integrating Denver Public Schools staff, student’s academic success can be directly monitored. Currently, Denver Public Schools offers an after-school program called Discovery Link. The program works alongside community partners to offer a variety of engaging experiences for students. However, none of the programs specifically focus using athletics, specifically lacrosse, to create lifelong skills. Denver Public Schools also offer a variety of after school clubs and activities. There are theatre clubs, DECA, Key Club, and Mock Trial. All of these clubs offer students a different way to get involved in areas they are passionate about all while meeting other like-minded students. CollegeVine is an online mentorship program for high school students. Their mentorship program is designed to help students discover their interests, become high performing individuals, and make the right choices early on in high school so that they are best prepared for the college admissions process come senior year.


    Identification and Analysis of “The Gap”

    In the state of Colorado, more than 10,000 students drop-out of public school a year. While the drop-out rate is statistically shown to be decreasing over the years, there is evidence to confirm a growing number of students at risk for dropping out. Evidence such as absence and disciplinary rates are skyrocketing, pointing directly to the issue we are trying to tackle.

    There are numerous reasons for students to be dropping out. The most common reasons include, low attendance rates, absence of student engagement, lack of motivation, poor grades, and family or personal issues. Current programs in Colorado that are trying to combat some of these issues mainly focus on re-engagement programs. Most re-engagement programs operate separately from mainstream public schools and provide education and support. More specifically, Colorado re-engagement programs aim to provide services such as education intervention amenities, attendance services to increase commitment, and a Futures Academy program to help students that have “quit” on the school system.

    The Colorado Department of Education, CDE, has recently funded “Student Re-engagement Grant Program”, costing $2 million. The program helped 669 Colorado students in the graduation and completion of high school in 2017. The CDE also aims to influence the issue of drop-out rates using the “School Counselor Corps Grant Program” to assist in cultivating students for postsecondary readiness. The CDE’s launch of the “Bullying Grant Program” supports and teaches practices of bullying prevention, which is closely linked to drop-out rates. (Colorado Department of Education, 2017)

    Denver is not the only city with drop-out rate issues. A program called Harlem Lacrosse currently operates in five different cities, including New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles to make a positive impact regarding academic decline and drop-out rates inspired through lacrosse. The nonprofit organization provides academic support, mentoring, leadership training, college readiness career exploration, admission counseling, and of course lacrosse instruction to serve students. Our program will consider Denver’s specific drop-out rate issues to build upon and create a platform, which combines our goals with already successful programs to produce the ideal proposal in order to tackle drop-out rates in Denver.


    Next Steps/Implementation

    Our next steps in addressing the issue of drop-out rates in Denver will be to conduct stakeholder interviews. We will be reaching out to an expert in each stakeholder category to ensure the success of our program. Our approach is to gain as much information as possible to really learn the why and how. Stakeholders, including, students, parents, school administrators, teachers, Colorado Department of Education managers, and other program advocates such as City Lax or Harlem Lacrosse will all be crucial resources in these next steps. Going into this process with an open-mind will allow for adaptability to really place a focus on the issue at hand. This will allow our program to reach the maximum amount of students and ultimately decrease drop-out rates.

This portfolio last updated: 20-Nov-2018 12:45 PM